Gamblers Anonymous versus Self-Help Debate

"Every human being is the author of their own health or disease." ~Buddha~

How instrumental is Gamblers Anonymous in overcoming gambling addiction? Is it more effective than self-help? Is Gamblers Anonymous considered self-help?
What works for you?

Here's my take on Gamblers Anonymous and what works for everyone......NOTHING. Nothing works for everyone. We are all different beings, with different beliefs, situations, tolerances, needs, abilities, understanding... on and on. It's great that we ARE all different too, otherwise there would be absolutely no variety of anything in life.

This is a similar question as the poll that Admin just posted...and I answered that it differs for everyone. Surely, Gamblers Anonymous is not going to work for someone who isn't open-minded to 12-Step programs. Professionally, it probably won't work for the person who can't be honest with themselves, let alone a counselor/psychiatrist. Self-help likely won't work for a person who can't be honest with themselves, and be vigilant in applying concepts on their own. It really does differ, and I for one am grateful that there are options for compulsive gamblers. I also believe that Gamblers Anonymous is a method of doing the steps, I am bringing about a progressive character change WITHIN myself. I also know it can be done with self-help alone...there are many here and at other sites that have done so.

I think the only intangible is effectiveness. There is no certain way to say absolutely that Gamblers Anonymous is better than self-help or self-help is better than Gamblers Anonymous in avoiding relapses. There are millions of compulsive gamblers in the world, and I'm sure there is no way to poll them, let alone follow them for the rest of their lives to get a good "statistic" regarding relapses.

Everyone has to find what works for them, and if one thing doesn't work, try another. And keep trying, until something "clicks."

Take care. Shelley.
I agree with Shelley here:

The most effective method of recovery is the one that works best for the individual, whether it's Gamblers Anonymous or self-help.

For me personally, self-help psychology worked extremely well. Gamblers Anonymous obviously works for some people and professional counseling works for others. I am sure that prayer alone will work for some also. Everything depends on the individual and their belief system and what they best respond to. We are all different.

I think people should be looking at the 'time factor'. How long before one is fully recovered? By fully recovered I mean, when a person has no more desire to gamble. Or at the very least can simply shrug off the feeling to gamble and carry on in a normal gamble-free Life, in the same way an ex-smoker, or ex-drinker does. The time factor might be shorter with Gamblers Anonymous or it might be shorter with self-help.

There is no instant cure for the vast majority of people. No magic pill and no single way that will work for everybody.

Self-help is not the way for everybody. Some people are too weak to even begin helping themselves. Before self-help they may benefit from professional counseling, until they have the strength to move on to self-help.

The way I see it is, if a person feels that Gamblers Anonymous is working and they 'feel right' with Gamblers Anonymous then they should continue. In the meantime, it would do no harm to read some self-help psychology books, or enter into counseling. Adding more strings to the bow.

Personally, I think we need to find the WHY individuals gamble compulsively. I see many people saying they gamble because…. It makes me forget my problems. It helps me to forget everything… For these people I think it is 'escapism'. If so, then they should discover exactly what it is they are trying to escape from, or run away from and deal with those issues. Find the root cause and kill the root. Gamblers Anonymous and self-help can both play a part in finding the root cause.

I used to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings but after awhile found them repetitive; having to go through the 20 questions at every meeting, introducing myself as a compulsive gambler, admitting to everyone I was powerless and had to surrender to a Higher Power. I had to do these things at every meeting. I felt like I was living in the past and wasn't growing after awhile.

There is no doubt in my mind that Gamblers Anonymous has saved the lives of thousands of compulsive gamblers around the world. I know it was a great starting point for me.

In my opinion, Gamblers Anonymous is a RELIGIOUS PROGRAM and it asks each member to SURRENDER THEIR POWER to someone else. I will explain why I think this way.

Now here are some great quotes from Gamblers Anonymous literature that anyone can apply, even if they are not pro-Gamblers Anonymous. As a former compulsive gambler, I try my best to live by them.

" order to lead normal happy lives, we try to practice to the best of our ability, certain principles in our daily affairs."

"FILL the void. Each member should try to find a way which suits him or her best, but it is essential that they do find a way. Some take up long-forgotten hobbies. Some return to sports they once had an interest in. Some resume education (this is something that can be done at any age)."

"The most difficult and time consuming problem which they will be faced is that of bringing about a character change within themselves. Most Gamblers Anonymous members look upon this as their greatest challenge which should be worked on immediately and continued through their lives."

"The first bet to a problem gambler is like the first small drink to an alcoholic. Sooner or later he or she falls back into the same old destructive pattern."

"Don't try to solve all your problems at once."

"Opportunities missed-- If we come to accept a safe, and more prudent way of life, we will have more opportunities, and if we are free from gambling and living a useful life, we will be able to take advantage of them when they occur. The old ones are gone, look forward to new ones."

"...By the time we came to Gamblers Anonymous, we had picked up a number of character defects. It was virtually impossible to gamble compulsively without "lying, stealing, avoiding reality and escaping into a dream world, or sometimes indulging in all three.

"Then we listened to learn how to rid ourselves of these defects. First, we must be aware of them and acknowledge them. This requires: Honesty with ourselves..."

"Isn't compulsive gambling basically a financial problem? No, compulsive gambling is an emotional problem."


"They [founder Jim W. and another person at first meeting] concluded from their discussions that in order to prevent a relapse it was necessary to bring about certain character changes within themselves. Qualities such as kindness, generosity, honesty and humility."

"...If you can admit to being wrong right now, you are truly gaining a deeper insight into yourself. Freely admit the other party is right and being glad for them, even appreciating confrontation and constructive criticism is a giant step. This step (10) and the two which follow, if done daily, will help maintain daily growth...should be regularly repeated."

"...Gamblers Anonymous members have found that the best road to financial recovery is through hard work and repayment of our debts."

I believe if we lived by the creeds of Gamblers Anonymous above, we will become better people.

Okay, now let me explain why I think

1) Gamblers Anonymous is a religious program. 2) The program asks its members to surrender too much power to another party.

"People seeking Gamblers Anonymous for help need only have a desire to stop gambling, and are not required to subscribe to any particular religious belief."


Step 7: Humbly asked God (of our understanding) to remove our shortcomings.

Step 11: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Steps 7 and 11 make direct reference to "God." My understanding is that you are religious if you believe in God. Gamblers Anonymous even uses "H"im, "P"ower, "H"is.

--Based on the two steps above, I believe Gamblers Anonymous is a religious program. There is nothing wrong with being a religious program but I wish some GA'ers and Gamblers Anonymous itself would admit it and stop saying that you only need to believe in a Higher Power and that Higher Power doesn't have to be God. This is contrary to some of the steps in the program.

2) Also, Gamblers Anonymous doesn't promote "understanding" of the problem-- the science, business, and psychology aspects of gambling. Gambling is a very complex issue.

---The first thing the Gamblers Anonymous program does to a new member is ask the member to admit they're "powerless" over gambling without taking time to explain the nature of the beast. I.e. how the other side works, as Ravisher has given us a glimpse into.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over gambling-- that our lives had become unmanageable.

-- Well, this works well at the beginning stages but after 6 months, it felt like I was living in the past. I had to admit to myself and to the room, aloud, that I was powerless over an activity, a choice.

Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to a normal way of thinking and living.

Step 3: Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of this Power of our own understanding.

-- Steps 1 ,2, and 3 ask the compulsive gambler to indirectly surrender their abilities, beliefs, and power to a third party. This party, it doesn't say directly, is God. Again, nothing wrong with it but Gamblers Anonymous should admit it is a religious program.

After awhile, I felt helpless. I had to make a decision, do I want to rely on some "Power" for the rest of my life or believe in myself? My answer was to believe in myself-- self-determination, self-esteem, self-recovery...

Here are some Gamblers Anonymous quotes I find disturbing after I was able to help myself (by reading psychology and other self-help books):

"...The Gamblers Anonymous concept is that compulsive gamblers are VERY SICK PEOPLE."

"Compulsive gambling is an illness..."

Gamblers Anonymous uses the "incurable disease" model of compulsive gambling. The member must accept that there is no cure for this disease, gambling addiction can only be arrested. To sum up these points: I'm very sick, I have an illness and an incurable disease. All these positive reinforcements will make me feel real good. NOT.

"Is knowing why we gambled important? Perhaps, however insofar as stop gambling, many Gamblers Anonymous members have abstained from gambling without the benefit of the knowledge of why they gambled."

Well, that's maybe the reason why the meetings I attended for over 6 months were like revolving doors. To me, it is extremely important to know why I gambled.

During my Gamblers Anonymous days, people came and people went. They came back after they relapsed. Or some were too ashamed to come back. But our group had about 10-15 members each week. Only about 4-7 were regulars and the rest came and went.

For me, steps 1, 2, and 3 of Gamblers Anonymous ask too much of me. The steps are asking me to surrender all my abilities and powers to someone else. This is the opposite concept of self-help psychology.

Remember, you can also seek self-help through religion. My point is that Gamblers Anonymous was not for me, and Gamblers Anonymous should admit 12 steps is a religious program.

Several good points. It's true that Gamblers Anonymous is a spiritual program, and for many it requires a belief in God. And it does have several very good tenets which, when followed, can improve every aspect of a person's life. First, I think it's great that you gave it a chance, and that it was the starting point for you. Whatever works! For me, as well, it's a lot about "bringing about a progressive character change."

Secondly, I agree about needing to know why we gambled. In my group, the 'regulars', the ones who have remained gamble-free the longest all have one thing in common: THEY HAVE PURSUED THE UNDERSTANDING OF WHY THEY GAMBLED. Some did this through counseling, some gained understanding by self-searching. But in the end, the ones who I see as being 'successful' in the program, have sought out answers to why they gambled. And I'm glad that they are still coming to the Gamblers Anonymous meetings...hearing them share helps me gain some insight into my personal reasons. Also for me, I don't need to understand the 'business' end of gambling...key word is one goes into business to lose money. I remember a comment I either read or heard in Vegas (not sure where I picked it up) "If every person coming into a casino and left when they were up $1...the casino would go out of business"

The truth is, when we go to a casino to gamble, we are 'buying' a product...and how much we choose to spend on it is on our heads. The danger lies in what we think we are buying... a chance to be rich? Escape (part of Gamblers Anonymous program)? Feeling like a big shot (Gamblers Anonymous covers this concept)? I paid for escape. I think, knowing what we were trying to 'buy' is a good start at answering why we gambled, and different for everyone.

"Understanding the nature of the beast." Man... you figure that out and you have it made.

Have a great day. Shelley.
OK, with my comments everyone will have heard from the "regulars". I think that every compulsive gambler should try all the options for treatment and find the one(s) that work best for them, including Gamblers Anonymous. I, like Honesty, hated the repetitive part and couldn't accept the "I am helpless" part (a very dominant aspect of Gamblers Anonymous). I did however learn some valuable "roadblocks" that have kept me from getting in as bad a shape as I was in the very first time.

Like Shelley, I have a strong faith in God but I also know that God gave us free will and it's our responsibility to use it (un)wisely. The only treatment I have never tried was 1-1 counseling which I actually think I would enjoy for awhile (paying someone to have to listen to my problems and gripes for an hour) but not only do I not have the financial resources for that, I can't even find someone that deals with compulsive gambling. I also don't really see the point in statistics regarding how the casinos "entice" people in and trap them. Cigarette companies can't even advertise in the U.S. anymore and they're still doing fine.

Thanks Admin for giving me a forum and everyone else for giving me hope.

By the time somebody arrives here in this forum, or at a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, they already know 'what' they are. In my opinion the next thing they need to know is 'why' they are? Once the 'why' is established then the thing to aim for is to take care of that 'why'.

If the 'why' is depression, or self-destructive behavior (this concept if covered by Gamblers Anonymous), or in order to forget problems, or to get out of a bad financial situation… then the 'why' (root cause) should be eliminated. This may solve the problem of compulsive gambling, if not solving it completely, it will make it easier to quit. Of course the 'why' may not be just one 'why' there may be more than one, or many. The 'why's' may stem from way back in childhood (Gamblers Anonymous does not cover this concept) where we cannot remember why we are depressed, or why we are self-destructive. My feeling and experience tells me that with a Self-Help program it does not matter too much if we cannot find the root cause. Self-help can teach us enough to realize that we are worthy people. Worthy of success, worthy of happiness and not the slaves of a self-destructive nature, or a depressive personality…

Gamblers Anonymous is obviously a good starting point for some, and totally successful for others and does not work at all for yet others. I cannot go along with the Gamblers Anonymous concept of 'I am helpless…" because I am NOT. I cannot go along with something I do not believe in because it is not a part of my belief system.

The newcomer should, in my opinion, take a look at all the methods and decide which one might fit into their belief system. Then try that way… if they find it is not working for them… then try another way. Just KNOW… THERE IS A WAY!

It's true that I can take what I want and leave the rest from the Gamblers Anonymous program. Unfortunately, the steps that I want to leave are practiced during each meeting. I couldn't just get up and go to the bathroom 5 out of 12 times because I didn't want to do those Gamblers Anonymous steps.

I firmly believe that Gamblers Anonymous has saved the lives of thousands of people. I also firmly believe religion has saved the lives of millions of people. But I also know, based on history, that more people have died in the name of religion than for any other cause.

There is nothing wrong with having a religious program like Gamblers Anonymous. However, they should admit to it.

What is the difference between a "spiritual" program and a "religious" program?

I honestly don't know this answer. If you think you know and it applies to Gamblers Anonymous' 12-step program, please let me know.
Spiritual and Religious can mean the same thing, or it can mean different things.


1) Of, relating to, consisting of, or having the nature of spirit; not tangible or material.
2) Of, concerned with, or affecting the soul.
3) Of, from, or relating to God; deific.
4) Of or belonging to a church or religion; sacred.
Relating to or having the nature of spirits or a spirit; supernatural.


1) Having or showing belief in and reverence for God or a deity.
2) Of, concerned with, or teaching religion: a religious text.
3) Extremely scrupulous or conscientious: religious devotion to duty.

These words can be interrelated and the difference is in the way we distinguish them.

As a non-believer in a 'religious' God is impossible for me to relate to a God or higher Power in a 'spiritual' sense. I DO believe however, that the world and life was 'created' and not a happy Darwinian "Origin of Species" accident. However, I also believe Darwin was right in his "Theory of Evolution". To my mind, evolution was built into the original 'Design'. Who/What designed it is way beyond my comprehension. Therefore, religious and spiritual will mean different things to me, than to a religious/spiritual person.

The strange thing is, I find myself to be more Spiritual/Christian, more Buddhist and more Muslim than most of those I've met, who 'claim' to be religious. (If the religious concept of Gamblers Anonymous's program does not agree with your belief system, then you might want to leave that portion out).

I may have written elsewhere on this site, but the way I see it is this: I have a gold watch with a diamond bezel on a crocodile strap. In order to make this watch I need, some carbon, sand, steel, ruby, copper, gold and a crocodile (small one will do) Now it does not matter how long I hammer these objects, heat them, beat them, freeze them, tease them, they will NEVER make this watch by any form of accident what-so-ever. I mean NEVER, even though never is a very long time... First, must come the IDEA of a timepiece... a stick in the sand with the sun casting a shadow that moves through the day... and from there the timepiece 'evolves'... until now, we can measure time in nano-seconds. Each step in the evolution is first an idea, then a 'plan' then the 'creating'.

I see Life as a program... with just '0's and '1's any program can be 'designed'. The whole Universe could be controlled by mathematics. There is a fascinating site at HERE of the Mayan concept of the Mathematical Universe. Heavy, but insightful. A mathematica Universe does not rule out the idea of a Creator, in fact it demands one.

What that creator might be is something else. It could be a Universal mind, it could be absolutely anything... I do not see it as a Christian God, a Muslim God, or any other organized 'religious' God. It is beyond my comprehension that it could look 'anything' like a man. God making man in his 'own image' is to my mind, man's own Ego at work, and nothing more.

Churches are the richest organizations on Earth, yet children still starve in so many places around the World. People live in squalor and dire poverty all over our globe, and the churches have countless billions of dollars. THAT, is SIN.


I totally agree with you about people starving in the midst of all the wealth and technology we have...this can also be said for the countless other 'billionaire businesses' around the world. The world could be changed and bettered so much with a little effort from everyone. It starts in our own neighborhoods, and blossoms out. It starts with US and really has nothing to do with what we believe in theologically.

When the planet starts taking care of each other out of kindness, then we truly will be 'Christian'
Don't hold your breath, Shelley... don't hold your breath. I have no faith at all in the human race. Sigh!
I gambled for 19 years, I tried therapists, I tried self-help, and I tried Gamblers Anonymous on several occasions. What it took me to stop gambling was to be ready to stop, I was sick of being sick and tired.

Gamblers Anonymous helped me so much on my path to recovery because I had isolated so much when I was gambling. The first meeting I went to when I hit my bottom gave me the feeling that I wasn't alone and I didn't have to be alone again. I have read many self-help books since I started in Gamblers Anonymous and that has also helped me along the way. I think it's a combination of taking in those things that help you, it doesn't matter what those things are. I of course endorse Gamblers Anonymous because it was the thing that truly helped me, I didn't have to white knuckle it alone anymore.

Everyone is right though, you have to do what works for you and even with the Gamblers Anonymous program that is true. Everyone works their program a little differently; the steps are the foundation.

I was desperate when I stopped on March 9, 2003, I had finally gotten to the point that I would do anything to stop. Gambling was sucking the life right out of me and so I listened to the others that had stopped and what they suggested I should do to help me stop. Today that still works for me one day at a time.

I have accepted that I will never be cured, I will always be a compulsive gambler just as I have green eyes, it's part of who I am. The choice is whether I feed that addiction or not, I chose to feed my recovery instead and my recovery comes in many different forms. Books, spirituality, Gamblers Anonymous meetings, people with the same cause, and service. Whatever works for you is important, just stop the madness.

I get the impression after reading several posts that some feel religion is required for working with the Gamblers Anonymous steps. I find that organized religion does not agree with me but I do recognize that I have a higher power that is watching over me.

Someone said this at my meeting a few weeks ago and it has stuck with me:
"Religion is for those who are afraid of going to hell. Spirituality is for those who have been there."
As they say in Gamblers Anonymous, "Take what you want and leave the rest." That says it all pretty much...



"...but I do recognize that

"...but I do recognize that I have a higher power that is watching over me. "
This statement seems to have plenty of religion to me, as I don't believe anything watching over me.  I do believe in things I can't see, touch or feel, which I think makes me think of myself capable of believing in spiritual things.  I do know that there are things I cannot control but something/someone else can control, which however doesn't mean the something/someone is better or higher than me.  One may call me "agnostic," and I am fine with that.  Also, if one argues that "agnostic" is a religion, I am fine with that, too.
My point is whether or not GA is religion is not a problem for me anymore. (it was at first and I was so frustrated, because GA doesn't admit it.)  The problem I have with GA is that GA or (some firm belivers of GA) does not recognize or admit that it is a religious group, just like someone at this website said already.

If "being afraid of going to hell" makes the group "religous", by the way, GA is actually a definitely religious group.  In my understanding, GA implies that not stop gambling leads compulsive gamblers to the insanity, inprison, and death.  To me, these consists of (living) hell.

In my humble opinion, the whole debate of GA being a religeous group or not is another branch of today's political correctness b.s.  Calling or admitting the group as a religious one costs them to eliminate those who don't believe in a certain religion.  So, I understand that GA cannot admit themself as a religious group, and I don't blame it.  However, I can't help but wish they don't use "spirituality" as a disguise, because I think it is very misleading.