Joe’s Story

I’m that rare person whose “clean date” for drinking is the same as my clean date for gambling. The funny thing was that I never really thought that one had much to do with the other. But once I started treatment for gambling addiction—and learned more about addiction in general—I put it all together.

Earlier in my life, I never thought of myself as much of a gambler. In fact, I used to build parts and some installations for casinos, but never had much desire to get involved. In fact, I actually snubbed my nose at the very people who were doing the kinds of things that I eventually did.

I had been a drinker for a long time. I used to hang out at the bar with friends for happy hour. Eventually, I ended up getting into the habit of buying one pull tab. It was almost always just one, and I started doing it every day.

There were $2 pull tabs that had a top prize of $599. One day, I hit a $599 winner. Of course I ended up making a big deal out of this with my friends in the bar who knew me, and gave a big tip to the woman who sold me the pull tab.

I then learned that it was customary to “prime” things for the next pull tab customer by buying another pull tab. So I did. And that also turned out to be another $599 winner.

The feeling of winning two straight pull tabs was exhilarating. It was a feeling I’d try to obtain again, but I never got close.

As with gambling, I found it hard to stop drinking. I always thought I could control my drinking, but I as I look back on it, I realize that wasn’t true. For me, drinking and gambling went hand in hand.

I tried going to GA to stop gambling but was never successful with it. Eventually, I went to Vanguard (a residential treatment program in Granite Falls). While there, the subject of my drinking was brought up by my sister, as she thought of my drinking in much the same way as my gambling. When I sought help for gambling, I didn’t have any intention of stopping drinking.

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I’ve come to understand that I have an addictive personality. (I also had some issues with substance use earlier in my life.) I’ve also come to realize that cross addiction is fairly common and that people often stop one behavior only to replace it with another.

I was asked to compare the difficulty of overcoming gambling addiction with the difficulty of overcoming drinking. I actually think that gambling is harder. Alcohol is easier to stay away from. Gambling inundates our lives. We deal with money in so many things—raffles, stocks and bonds, investing. I am so glad that my gambling was limited to pull tabs and that I didn’t get involved with fantasy sports or sports betting online.

There’s also nowhere near as much help available for gambling as there is for drinking. While I know that help for gambling is available, it just seems harder to find.

The stigma is also a bigger thing with gambling. Being an “alcoholic” is more acceptable. People just tell you to go to AA. But if you mention having a gambling problem, people are more apt to tell you that you just need to practice more willpower. People think of addiction as relating to something that you ingest versus chemicals that already exist within us.

Ultimately, I don’t feel the need to label myself as either an alcoholic or a gambling addict. I consider myself simply an “addict” in general. And understanding that concept has been a key in my overall recovery.

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