Ex-gambling addict “Michael” (not his real name) was deep in debt and placing up to…
Regaining Financial Security After Gambling Addiction
Now that you’re in recovery for gambling addiction, you can begin to rebuild your life. A big part of that will undoubtedly involve repairing the financial nightmare that resulted from your compulsive gambling. Just the stress of trying to deal with creditors, mountains of piled up debt, and the insecurity of not knowing if you’ll be able to financially independent again can take a huge toll. Don’t let it. You can regain your financial strength, security and confidence in your ability to take care of your financial obligations. But you do need help.
Look at the Big Picture
First, assess the big picture. Sure, you’re in the hole financially right now, but look at where you want to be in 5 to 10 years. Recognize that it may take several or many years for you to recoup your financial strength – and pay off your massive debt. So, you have to look past indebtedness to positive financial strength.
What are your goals for financial independence? Make a list of them. This is important because it gives you something concrete to strive for, not just chipping away at debt. If you’ve lost a home due to bankruptcy or foreclosure, perhaps owning your own home again is something you really want to work towards. If you’ve gambled away your children’s college fund, setting aside money to give them some assistance toward their higher education may also be on your list of financial goals.
In your goal listing, separate the relatively short-term goals from those that are longer term. Make them at 5-year intervals, just to keep things simple. Why should you do this exercise before you even have any tools to work with? The answer is simple: you will always be able to revise your goals – and the good news is that once you begin to make headway in regaining your financial strength, you’ll most likely be able to revise them upward. No, you won’t be able to go hog wild – there’s no easy money in the forecast. But reasonable and achievable goals are what you’re after.
Assess the Damage Done
This is a painful step, but it’s one that you absolutely have to take. In order to move forward, you need to know where you stand financially right now. If you are married or have a partner with whom you share your life, you can enlist that person to help you compile the current inventory of debt. When you have another person with you while you calculate your financial indebtedness helps in other ways as well. It allows you to take responsibility for your actions and shows that you are sincere in your desire to make positive changes in your behavior.
Yes, you may be fearful of actually knowing how much you owe due to your gambling addiction. Or you may have shoved the thought of the consequences away as something you’d deal with at a future date. That time is now. Get busy and list everything – even the small $20 “loans” you received from coworkers. You may not even remember how many times you did this, but they do. Repaying them should be on your list just like all your other creditors.
Don’t forget the costs of treatment for your gambling addiction. If you went into residential or intensive outpatient treatment, there are always costs that aren’t covered by insurance. You may have worked out a pay-as-you-go plan, or obtained a scholarship, or even received treatment as part of a federal, state or local assistance plan. Perhaps you received treatment for substance abuse, and were able to be treated for gambling addiction during the same treatment program. But, again, there were costs associated with your treatment that need to be paid.
Let’s say you didn’t go into formal treatment, but relied on 12-step groups such as Gamblers Anonymous. Since attendance is free of charge (donations are always appreciated), you won’t have amassed debt here.
Once you calculate the total amount of debt, don’t faint. It will probably be more than you ever imagined. After all, you’ve been gambling for quite some time, using up funds from every conceivable source – and then some. If you’re in the 60 percent of compulsive gamblers, you’ve even committed crimes to support your gambling habit. Theft, embezzlement and fraud have more than financial consequences. Some gambling addicts serve prison time as a result.
Okay, so you’ve got the bottom line total. Now, what do you do?
Seek Financial Counseling
At some point before you quit gambling and sought treatment, you may have lost your job along with other assets. Your income-earning abilities may now be seriously compromised – if you have a job at all. Staring at the mountain of debt that you just tallied up, you may be tempted to chuck it all and walk away. This is a normal reaction, but it’s only temporary. Allow the thought to register and tell yourself that you are going to work your way out of this hole, one step and one day at a time.
The best way to begin to regain your financial security is to seek financial counseling. Use every possible resource at your disposal. If you did receive treatment for gambling addiction at a residential, intensive inpatient or outpatient treatment facility, the staff there can assist you with referrals to financial counselors. Possibly you received some financial counseling during your gambling treatment. If aftercare is part of your treatment program, this continues into your recovery and will likely include financial counseling. Make use of it.
Suppose, however, that you don’t have access to financial counseling as part of a treatment program. There are still financial counselors that you can find that will provide the kind of guidance you need. Many of them will provide this service at very low cost or even free of charge. You do need to vet their credentials and check their references. Ask your support network in Gamblers Anonymous for referrals. The chances are very good that you’ll wind up with several. Go ahead and contact these financial counselors and find one that’s a good fit.
One solution many people who are in way over their heads consider is bankruptcy – if it has not already occurred. Before you give this any serious thought, however, discuss your situation with your financial counselor. Bankruptcy, while it doesn’t carry the same stigma as it did years ago, is still a serious matter and will affect your credit for a long time. It may, or may not, be the best way to go.
Contact your Creditors
Although this basic step is one of the easiest to do, many people are afraid to call their creditors. Believe it or not, your creditors want to help you pay down your debt to them. It’s in their best interests to give you the opportunity to do so. After all, a small repayment each toward what’s owed is better than nothing at all.
Of course, working out a repayment plan means that the creditor will need some reassurance that you have the ability and means to pay, and the intention to make good on your promises to pay. Expect them to require a repayment schedule from you. Since the amount that you work out is what you’ll actually need to pay each month, be sure it’s doable. Your financial counselor will help you figure out how much you’ll realistically be able to pay each month to each creditor.
Turn Over Finances to Another
Some financial counselors encourage their clients to turn over their finances to another person. This lessens the stress and the opportunity for the recovering gambler to dip into the funds when gambling urges occur. You might think that this is a cop-out, that you should be able to control your own money. You also may not want to give over financial control to another – no matter how much you love them. But it may be necessary. Work this out with your financial counselor. The solution may only be a temporary one, until you get more firmly back on your feet and are farther along in your recovery.
Cut Up Credit Cards
This is a no-brainer. You just can’t have access to credit – not when you’re a recovering gambling addict. Cut up all your credit cards and destroy them. Don’t just lock them up. It’s too easy to retrieve them. And, if they’re around, even if they’re in a locked drawer, safe or safety deposit box, you’ll use them.
Related to this is to have your name removed from advertisers’ lists. You don’t need solicitations for new credit cards appearing in your mail. Contact your banks and have them remove you from their promotional mailing lists as well.
Don’t Leave Sums of Cash at Home
Having your check automatically deposited is one way to avoid cashing the check and keeping sums of money at home. If your finances are being handled by someone else, it may be a good idea to have your check automatically deposited into an account that person controls – one that you don’t have access to. The idea is to avoid having the temptation of large sums of cash laying around – since it’s too easy to succumb to an urge to gamble.
Don’t think of it as deprivation. Instead, think of this as sound money advice. People who have a hard time controlling their spending need discipline and new behavioral approaches.
Have People to Talk to During Stressful Times
Life isn’t all about bills, nor should it be. Even though you’re trying to become whole again, financially speaking, you need friends and associates around with whom you can talk when things become stressful. And, make no mistake about it – there will be plenty of stressful times ahead.
Keep phone numbers of these friends you can call handy in your wallet or purse, or in your desk, day-planner or PDA. Just the knowledge that you have this list will be reassuring to you. When you have a moment of doubt, or powerful urges to gamble crowd out your good intentions, call your friend and talk over your situation. They can help redirect your thoughts and get you past the moment of crisis. This is where your Gamblers Anonymous (or other 12-step group) support network really comes in handy. They know what you’re going through, since they’ve all been through the tough times themselves. Who else but a recovering gambling addict can completely understand the pitfalls of coming back? Use these lifelines. They will prove invaluable to you in your recovery – and for far more reasons than just financial.
Put Attendance at 12-Step Groups at the Top of Your List
While we’re on the subject of support groups, make it a priority that you attend the meetings regularly. There’s nothing like the reassurance of others that you get from your physical attendance at these meetings. While you may think you know the drill, when you experience a setback or a situation and then hear another person talk of a similar situation and how they successfully handled it, the episode takes on a whole new meaning. Suddenly, you’ve learned something new, some new technique or approach that you can tailor to your own situation. Multiply this by a thousand and you’ll begin to see the benefit of continuing your participation in 12-step meetings.
While you’re investing time and effort in remaking your financial foundation, it’s also important that you take time off for you and your family. Besides financial security, you need emotional stability and security, the love and trust of those closest to you – and you also need your dreams.
- Talk about what’s important to you and listen to what your spouse or partner has to say about their own priorities. Be as inclusive as you can about these discussions and remember that recovery from gambling involves more than just the gambler. Everyone in the family is involved.
- Discover new hobbies – ones that don’t cost money (or cost very little). Make it something you always wanted to do but didn’t have the time, or something that you think might interest you. Devoting yourself to a hobby gives you something worthwhile to do that whittles away blocks of time and takes your mind off the urge to gamble.
- Try to do activities as a family, whether it’s a simple hike in the mountains, forest preserve, along the beach, or just in the neighborhood. This gives you a cardio workout and it is fun. Best of all, these kinds of pursuits don’t cost a dime – but they provide immeasurable returns in physical and emotional health.
- Find new friends – ones who have nothing to do with gambling. Once you begin to engage in hobbies, sports, recreational and entertainment activities with family and others, you will find it easier to meet people with like interests. Sharing time with friends who are non-gamblers will add to your feelings of contentment, self-confidence and self-esteem.
- If you have a relapse, get back on track by admitting what happened, and getting help. Confide in your spouse or partner, your counselor, and get in touch with your 12-step group allies. Remember that you are human, and humans make mistakes. The key to a successful and long-lasting recovery is to work at it every day.
Following the path that you’ve worked out for yourself during your treatment and in your recovery, you will begin to see progress over time. First, it may seem like nothing good is happening to turn your financial picture around. It may very well take quite some time to really see a difference. The best thing you can do is remain positive. Look at this as a journey, one that will take you to a very desirable destination.
You can choose to see your financial situation as a glass half-empty – or a glass half-full. Choosing the more optimistic view has spillover effects. Open your mind to the possibilities that will naturally follow when you look for and believe in a positive outcome. If you think in a positive manner, you will influence positive results. You will find yourself automatically making positive choices in your life – ones that will benefit you not only financially, but in every aspect of your life.
Regaining financial security after gambling addiction is, in the end, only a matter of time, determination, dedication, and a belief that you can do it. You absolutely can.