There's hope and help for problem gambling.

Matt’s Story

I am 23 years old and never thought I would end up in the situation I’m about to describe. I play online poker which I always believed was pretty “harmless” because it was just something I did to fill my spare time when I wasn’t in class, working, hanging out with friends or my girlfriend. This innocent game quickly became something that I never intended it to be as I watched myself eventually lose not only money, but valuable time.

It got to the point that I didn’t care if I saw anyone else not even my girlfriend who I love very much because all I wanted to do when I got out of class or home from work was gamble online. I eventually began to skip class especially my morning classes because I would be up all night until 4 or 5 AM and too tired to get up for class.

Gambling began to shut out everything else in my life that once was important to me. I no longer cared if I went to class even when my grades began slipping and I didn’t care if I saw anyone, in fact I actually got to a point that I preferred to be “alone” so no one would meddle in my business.

I still worked as a waiter on weekends and made great tips and even though I would be annoyed when I had to quit playing because I had to work, I had to continue to work because this is how I had money to continue to play. I had to lie to my supervisor a couple of times because I would be late getting to work, but I eventually got quite good at this also. I began pawning items just so I would have more money to gamble with.

My girlfriend and I began arguing a lot as she was feeling very neglected and in hindsight I guess I can’t blame her because I was no longer there for her and even when I was with her she stated, “ I was acting different like I didn’t care that she was around and that I had changed.” I found our usual date nights boring and couldn’t wait to get home so I could get online again. That was much more exciting to me. It wasn’t long before she broke up with me.

At first I didn’t care because I just thought she was overreacting and it gave me even more time to gamble, but I did begin to miss her. I rarely saw my friends anymore. Then one day I received notification that I had been placed on academic probation. I began to realize that this was more than just a game although I didn’t know who to tell or what to do, so I just continued gambling. I thought about telling my parents, but didn’t know how because I knew how disappointed they would be with me. I had no one else to turn to, so I did finally break down and told my mom. She in turn told my dad and they both suggested I seek help.

I could see the disappointment on their faces and I felt so ashamed of myself. This is not who I am. I still thought however, that I could quit by myself and I didn’t need any help to stop even though they didn’t agree with me. I tried stopping, but it was so hard. I found it difficult to sleep, or do anything else as I felt so bad and when I would try to just play for one hour, it would be several hours later and I just couldn’t stop. I finally told my parents that I did think I was in need of some help and agreed to talk with a counselor.

After becoming involved in Lutheran Social Services Gamblers Choice an outpatient treatment program suggested by my counselor, I have been free from online gambling for 15 months. It has been a huge struggle at times and I had two relapses when I was in treatment. But my counselor continued to work with me and through working the 12 steps and becoming involved in GA meetings (Gamblers Anonymous), I now have a much better life than I could have even imagined.

I have returned to school, and will graduate this coming spring. I have a new girlfriend and was even able to reconnect with a couple of my former friends in addition to making some new friends in the GA program. My mom is still monitoring my checking account which initially I was so opposed to, but have actually found this extremely helpful and comforting. It has been a very long road to get to where I’m at today and I know I couldn’t have done this on my own as I have learned just how powerful of a grip this addiction had on me.

I cannot say whether or not I will ever play online again, I certainly hope I don’t. I have had to learn to take one day at a time, and I sure hope I never find myself involved in something like this again. I am still involved in GA meetings and have met some great people there (and not all old people like I thought it was going to be), but people in my age group who really understand me. One of my goals is to become a GA sponsor in the very near future and I recently gave a talk about my experience during a National Gambling Awareness week at one of the local high schools to help raise awareness that this can happen to anyone at any age and that help is out there and there is no shame in asking for it.

I know I made the right decision by doing this and I have learned other ways to relieve my stress and now if I feel anxious I’ll go to a meeting or I talk with someone rather than trying to manage everything on my own. I have found other hobbies to fill my time and my feelings of loneliness have decreased significantly. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s available and it works.

Matt (A recovering compulsive gambler)