Category Archives: Gambling addiction

Guest post – A gambling addicts story

Karen L is not what most would picture when asked to describe a compulsive gambler. Educated with two college degrees and brought up in a ‘normal’ (as opposed to dysfunctional) military family, she’s traveled the world. She is also a military veteran, spending almost 10 years in the Air Force and worked in the club management field holding many positions of responsibility. She’s lived in Las Vegas for 20 years, of which the last 12 years have been spent in recovery working as the unpaid administrator for a self-help gambling hotline in the Las Vegas area. She is a valued member of the Executive Board for Lanie’s Hope, a national advocacy group serving as a catalyst for social change in problem gambling.
This is her story:

Karen L

Karen L

It would seem to be ironic to most people that a person with a serious gambling problem could find successful recovery in, of all places, Las Vegas. The fact is, it’s true and I would not want to live anywhere else. To begin to tell you the entire, sad story of my gambling addiction would require a book or two, but suffice to say that I did not become a compulsive gambler because I lived in Las Vegas nor did it happen overnight. I am extremely thankful to Veronica for her wonderful blog, Recovery Rocks and am honored that she has asked me to write a post about my experience and recovery.
As a child of a military family growing up, my family moved quite frequently and it seemed, almost always in the middle of a school year. From an early age, I had to learn quickly to adapt to new people and surroundings so that I could ‘fit in’ with others. Being an avid reader of all types of fiction, I also had developed quite an imagination and a taste for embellishing the truth. I was happiest when engaged in tomboy activities and always up for a dare; in fact, it was against my nature to back down or give in to anyone. It was that same stubbornness and pride that would keep me in action, long past the time that I should have surrendered and sought help for my addiction.
The first time I ever experienced Las Vegas in the early 80’s, I was in love. It was “Disney for a gambler…the happiest place on Earth” and I vowed that I would return and live there. I returned a few more times for vacation over the next 15 years and finally moved to Las Vegas in 1994. Over the next five years I was content to play my one or two sessions of bingo and a few dollars in a nickel machine, never feeling an overwhelming urge that I HAD to gamble. So, what changed and ‘turned’ me from a person that liked to gamble to one that was consumed by the bet? For me, I began to cross that line when I discovered video poker and it became an all-consuming, life-changing activity. No longer was it just a fun activity, but one that I was compelled to do every day. I worked and slept a few hours a day, but most of my days and nights were spent in front of that video poker machine. I couldn’t even bring myself to drink anything because it would mean having to leave the machine to go to the bathroom. I would sit for hours in front of that machine, smoking pack after pack of cigarettes and getting home for a few hours of sleep before my work shift and repeating the cycle day after day.
Image courtesy of Maggie Smith at

Image courtesy of Maggie Smith at

I always seemed to find the money to gamble, but never seemed to have money to buy new shoes or get a manicure or get my hair done. Having exhausted my resources for more money other than my paycheck, I began to take money from our savings, cashed in my savings bonds, mutual fund, borrowed from my 401 and yet, it still wasn’t enough to support my ‘habit’. I had a post office box at work so was able to hide the bills from the credit cards I’d taken out without the husband’s knowledge and a locker at work hid all of the ATM receipts. The stress, the secrets, the distress at not being able to gamble because I’d exhausted all possible resources began to take its’ toll on me. By mid-2001, the husband knew I had a serious gambling problem but as far as I was concerned, my only problem was I needed more money to support my habit. He had taken all the checkbooks, blank checks, credit cards, ATM cards and put me on a strict allowance. I had even taken a part-time job to help fill my hours but all it did was provide me with some additional spending money. The fights were escalating and he was constantly threatening to not only remove me from the bank accounts, but to kick me out of the house. The more I called his bluff and he failed to carry out his threats, the more I pushed. Inside, I was dying and just wanted to stop this vicious cycle. I began to think about suicide and how best to carry it out. I had Plan A and Plan B, but the reality of it was that I truly didn’t want to die, but I knew I could not keep living this lie.
I made a call to a hotline from one of those brochures found in the casinos, supplied by the Nevada Council for Problem Gambling with the slogan “When the Fun Stops”. Up to that point, I had never heard of 12-step programs and also never realized that I had an ‘illness’. My next discovery was that I was not crazy and more importantly, there was hope, help, and I was not alone. In respect for the 11th Tradition, I will not go into how that program changed my life other than to say that it has allowed me to live in the gambling ‘capital’ of the USA and not be fearful. I have a very healthy respect for this disease and know that it is dormant for now. I have learned so much about myself and this disease and grateful that next month I will recognize 12 years of recovery from gambling.
Karen L

Karen L

One of the reasons that I share my story with others is so that other gambling addicts will know that there is help and hope; that they don’t have to do it alone or feel shame. Over the last few years there has been an underground movement of sorts that seeks to encourage people to no longer be silent and remain in those ‘anonymous’ rooms. One such movement by Faces and Voices of Recovery, as well as the remarkable movie ‘Anonymous People’ directed by Greg Williams are encouraging people from all walks of life to come out of the shadows and share their stories of despair and hope. People, like Veronica Valli with her blog highlighting people of all addictions to share their secrets and celebrities, like Kristen Johnston who’ve written their stories (“Guts”), so that others can see they are not alone. In addition, I’ve been involved with a small organization ( that seeks to be a catalyst for social change to humanize the disease of compulsive gambling. It is our hope to advocate for change and to see treatment for gambling on same parity of alcohol and drug addiction.

A gamblers story of recovery – Bea Aikens

Today I have a fantastic guest post from Bea Aikens who is recovering from alcoholism and gambling addiction. Bea is determined to raise awareness of the serious and fatal consequences of gambling addiction after her beloved sister died from gambling. In her memory Bea started Lanie’s Hope a national advocacy group. Despite everything she has been through Bea has an amazing story of hope and recovery. If you or anyone you know has been affected by gambling addiction please read Bea’s story.

Speaking on Advocacy - NV Council 4-13-12

Speaking on Advocacy – NV Council 4-13-12

What a GREAT topic! Recovery really does ROCK!!! Today, I live a life that is far beyond any I could have imagined…even before my drinking and gambling got out of control. Often I hear the expression that recovery will “restore us to a normal way of thinking and living” but for me, I didn’t even know what “normal” was. Recovery did not “restore” me…it set me free to a life of abundance, gratitude, freedom and joy!

I’m getting ahead of myself here. Before I was able to experience the absolute JOY of the life I lead today, I lived in a state of perpetual shame, pain, fear and self-loathing as I faced a daily battle with the demons of addiction. While I am a recovering alcoholic as well as a recovering compulsive gambler, for me gambling was the “mother of all addictions.” I have no doubt that I am an alcoholic, yet acknowledging this and getting help to stop drinking did not result in complete freedom. I didn’t do the work necessary to be truly “free.”

I didn’t look at the reasons I drank excessively – to mask pain, fear and feelings. Instead I “changed seats on the Titanic” and found another outlet for these feelings. GAMBLING!

At least with alcohol, I could understand that I was physically ingesting something that altered my moods and behavior. With gambling, the compulsion to continue to destroy myself over and over again despite negative consequences was baffling!

My “rock bottom” came when my mother was diagnosed with cancer and given three months to live. Having not worked a program of recovery when I gave up alcohol, I didn’t have any coping tools, and I ran to the casinos and hid behind a slot machine….stuffing every fear, every feeling, every sorrow into that machine. I couldn’t play fast enough or long enough to numb the pain. But, somehow getting “into the zone” of video poker numbed my mind for a time and quieted my pain. Ironically, the devastation of my gambling only added to that pain in the long run.

After my mother died, I was like a moth to a flame. Promising myself daily that I would “never do that again,” only to find my car on autopilot as I pulled into the casino yet again. My finances were in ruins. I lied to my husband about where I was and what I was doing. I had hidden loans and secret credit cards…all in furtherance of a compulsion to continue to do something that was destroying my soul.

On the final night of my gambling, I took a bag of my mother’s beautiful jewelry to a pawn shop and paced nervously while they assessed the value of these priceless family treasures. They ultimately offered me far less than it was worth, and not enough to get me out of financial hot water, and I did not pawn mom’s jewelry. I’d like to say that I didn’t do it because these items were just too precious to me. They were precious, but that wasn’t the reason. They simply weren’t willing to pay enough to get me out of the immediate financial stress I was under do to my gambling.

Ultimately, I spent that final night of gambling trying desperately to win $10,000 to cover a shortfall in our bank account before my husband discovered it. Needless to say, I once again lost and…as I drove home from the casino in the wee hours of the morning I cursed myself for my weakness of character and contemplating ending it all.

I have since learned that compulsive gamblers have the highest suicide rate of any group. I am grateful that I didn’t end my life. I reached out for help, sought counseling and a recovery fellowship and have lived a life free from that insidious compulsion ever since!

While I am so grateful for my own recovery, I did not share my story with others for many years. It was personal and private. I enjoyed the blessings of a life free from gambling and kept my recovery life anonymous.

That is…until June 2, 2008. That was the date that my life in recovery changed forever and I knew that I could no longer recover in silence. People are dying from gambling addiction every day! Often it goes unnoted that a death is due to a gambling addiction. Someone runs their car off the road, or overdoses, or picks up a gun….and no one knows that that poor soul had a gambling addiction and, in their despair, thought suicide was the only way out.

On June 2, 2008, my beloved sister and best friend Lanie died due to complications from an overdose of antidepressants. Lanie was in recovery from a gambling addiction….until…. she secretly began to gamble again.

And…no one knew. I thought she was in recovery. I thought she was enjoying the blessings that I was experiencing a life that was happy, joyous and free. And, even with me, her sister, confidant and best friend, Lanie suffered in silence and shame as once again the compulsion to gamble had overtaken her life.

For several days before her death, Lanie lay in a coma in Intensive Care. The doctors were baffled as to how anyone could take that many antidepressants without something seriously WRONG going on in their personal life. I was unaware of any problems. Her work, her home life, all seemed good. And then…I found them. Receipts from a casino hidden under the front seat of Lanie’s car. She had been gambling again. I could tell from the casino receipts that she had been gambling fast and furiously the day before her overdose.

When I told the doctors that I was now aware of a serious problem that explained the overdose my sister was a compulsive gambler and she had been gambling again – their response left me speechless! Lanie was in a coma from which she was unlikely to recover. The doctors wanted answers…and I now had answers. A compulsive gambler had gone back to gambling. For me, that explained it all. To them…it raised a question that changed my life forever. They asked if she had WON?!!! Seriously. “Did she win?!!!” That was the response of the ICU physician.

I now realize that the physician had NO IDEA of just how obtuse, offensive and inappropriate this automatic response was. I now know that he will never know, others will never understand, if someone doesn’t speak out and speak up. And this is why I do what I do…speak about the addiction of compulsive gambling so that others understand.

On that fateful date, as Lanie transitioned from this life to the next, I cried, I cursed gambling addiction and the toll it takes on so many, and eventually I knew that there was work to be done. That the world needs to understand that gambling is not a “choice” for an addict. It does not require willpower to stop. It requires medical attention, mental health care and strong support from the recovery community. This is why I speak out about gambling addiction. This is why I advocate for social change in problem gambling. This is why Lanie’s Hope was born.

You may be wondering, with all of this, the loss of my sister due to a gambling addiction, my own struggles and recovery from the addiction, a history of alcoholism, the loss of my mother to cancer…everything that lead to this moment, how can I say “Recovery Rocks?”

I say it because I believe it and I have lived it! Life happens. No one has a life without challenges and obstacles. Our humanity means there will be great times and there will be challenging times. There will be joys and sorrows. These are not unique to addicts in or out of recovery.

What IS unique to recovery is this. Life in recovery offers hope and joy. Life on the other side, in my addictions, provided only misery and shame, regardless of the circumstances. When life was good, I gambled to celebrate, and ultimately felt shame and pain as a result. When life sucked, I gambled to escape the pain, only to feel even worse.

Today I see life through recovery’s lense. I see blessings everywhere. I can find gratitude in the lessons of life. I am blessed to have tools to deal with life on life’s terms. I start every day with “Quiet Time” – in meditation and prayer. I keep a journal and record a gratitude list for the life I’ve been given. I am able to be fully present for my friends, family and brothers and sisters in recovery.

Bea Aikens - Advocacy in Action 2012

Bea Aikens – Advocacy in Action 2012

Through a very sorrowful life experience, my life’s purpose was revealed, and I founded Lanie’s Hope to be of service to others. Today I focus my time, talent and treasure on the Mission of Lanie’s Hope, advocating for social change in problem gambling. I speak of RECOVERY much more than addiction. I am blessed beyond measure because of my addiction and recovery. I have friends who know ALL of me, as I no longer hide the “recovery” part of my story. And, by showing my humanity, it seems others feel safe in sharing who they really are with me. Relationships are richer. Time is precious. And today, every day matters. One Day At A Time!

Abstinence Date Alcohol 4/16/89
Abstinence Date Gambling 1/6/96

Recovery Rocks – Kim Pottle

Earlier this week I published a guest post by Liz Karter on the subject of Women and Gambling. Because gambling is a behaviour and not a substance some people believe that it isn’t a true addiction. As you can see from Liz’s post, a gambling addict has the same symptoms of dependency and withdrawal as an alcoholic would.
Gambling addicition can also be seen largely as a male problem. Again this is not necessarily true, just as many gambling addicts are female.

Kim Pottle

Kim Pottle

Today’s Recovery Rocks interview is with Kim Pottle, a recovered gambler who nearly lost everything to her addiction. Kim lived in Nevada and gambled in Casino’s, her whole world was built around gambling until there was nothing left.
You will see from her interview that if you replaced the word gambling with alcohol, her addiction is exactly the same. The biggest clue to this is the title of her book ‘Numb no more.’ The reason any addict uses anything is to numb how they feel. The only difference; the substance or behaviour we choose.
Kim now lives in Colorado with her husband and step-son’s and works with gamblers all over the world to over come their addiction.
If you want help with your gambling addiction you can contact Kim here.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
I wish I could say that I only had one “rock bottom.” There were a few points where I just became sick and tired of being sick and tired. I would abstain from gambling, get my head back together, forget how miserable I was and then carry on with my same addictive patterns. My gambling craziness truly ended when I ran out of money sources. I had run up all of my credit cards, spent my inheritance and I didn’t even have a job. I was at the mercy of my boyfriend while I searched for an income and worked on changing my life. I searched for ways to get out of my money problems because I had always been proud of my good credit and trustworthiness. Gambling destroyed all of that for me. I was finally forced to file bankruptcy because I dug my financial hole too deep.

2) What was your ‘moment of truth’ or ‘clarity’ that prompted you to get sober/clean?’
Throughout my addiction I have had numerous points of clarity. The key was whether or not I acknowledged them! One of my moments of truth was one of the many days that I was exhausted from another gambling binge and finally admitted that I might have a problem. I didn’t feel good. I was mentally and physically exhausted. I hadn’t eaten, gone to the bathroom or slept. Oh, yeah, and I had maxed out my daily credit limits. Again. And lost it all. Again. One of my turning points in life was dragging myself to an outpatient program. Day after day in the program I learned that I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t crazy. I gained tools that gave me a chance to become a healthier person. With those tools and the support of other people I was able to make progress with my addiction.

3) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
The first 30 days of abstinence were terrible! I actually went through withdrawals the first week. I had headaches and anxiety. I felt like a caged animal and questioned whether or not I was doing the right thing. Thankfully I had a support group and daily teachings so that I could understand that what I was going through was normal. I wasn’t losing my mind. My body was just detoxing from an addiction. I had to plan out my days and make sure I didn’t leave much space in my brain to fantasize about playing. I felt such a loss during that time. I had lost my best friend and my comfort that had taken up so much space in my life. I was confronted with my emotions. Those had been stuffed away for many years and I continue to learn about them to this day. They were uncomfortable. I wanted to run from them. I had always kept a journal but this time I had to write about specific topics. I wrote a goodbye letter to gambling. I talked about my family history. I dug deep into my soul to learn who I was. That’s all good and fine but, truth be told, I was white knuckling my way through that first 30 days. I didn’t like how I felt and it was hard. But it was also time.

4) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

I am now free to make my own choices! I’m not a slave to gambling anymore. I have been practicing how to thrive in life. I love traveling and I actually get to spend my money enjoying places I love instead of throwing it away in a casino. My focus is returning and I am able to find joy in little things. I used to spend my vacation time inside a casino. Now I explore the world around me with open eyes and discover beauty all around. I’m still an introvert but I talk to people more. I honor my body’s needs by giving it rest, relaxation or food it desires. I’m not great at exercising yet but I’m working on it! I look forward to learning and growing as a human being and I enjoy contributing to the world. So many possibilities have opened up to me. I am truly blessed to be living my life.
That being said, my addictive mind would have read that and grumbled about what a joke it is. When you’re in it it’s hard to see where you can be. The good life was for other people. I hope you realize that it can be for you as well.

5) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself that the money will run out. Love more. Take down your wall. Let people in. You don’t have to be so strong. Don’t be so afraid of being hurt. Confront your problems now because they will still be there in the end. And they will be even bigger.

6) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
Once the fog of addiction cleared I actually learned how to feel. This has been one of the most exciting and challenging things of my life. I was taught at an early age to run away from my problems and learning how to deal with things has opened up so many doors for me. As always, I am a work in progress. I still struggle with allowing myself to be successful. I am learning my strengths and my weaknesses. I am learning to honor my body and my natural rhythms.
Writing this interview has been another challenge for me. I want to help and yet sometimes the exposure is scary. What if they don’t like me? What if they judge me? What if I did the interview wrong? I constantly remind myself that I want to be seen. I refuse to be another silent voice of addiction. My voice needs to be shared because it helps others understand.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
Progress not perfection. One day at a time. Work it because you’re worth it.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Through all of my insecure, inadequate, unworthy uglies I am finally free. I live by my own choices and grow at my own pace. I am able to see what’s really going on and take steps to make it better. I get to share my gifts with the world. As an addict I was barely surviving. Now I get to thrive and help others do the same! Life is good!

Visit Kim’s Facebook page here and on Twitter.

The Fear behind her Poker Face

I’m delighted to have Liz Karter from Level Ground Therapy guest blog on gambling addiction in women. She is also the author of ‘Women and Problem Gambling’ which is availbe to buy here.
Liz Karter
Liz outlines what she deals with in her work:

Imagine you are right now face to face with your greatest fear. A spider? The unfamiliar sound when you wake in the dark? Public speaking? Next-and please don’t think about it- just ask yourself what is your first instinct? Do you confront your fear head on? Or instinctively do you freeze on the spot, or run the other way? The ‘fight,’ ‘flight’ or’ freeze’ response to fear at times of acute stress was first described by Harvard professor Walter Bradford Cannon He found that instinctively we do one or the other. I imagine most of us would agree with his findings. I know I do. See me go when a sizeable spider enters any room I happen to be in…

In my clinical practice working with gambling addiction since 2001, specialising in gambling addiction and women I have been taught by my clients that gambling is essentially an instinctive response to fear. It is an attempt to take flight; to escape into the gambling action because it feels like there is no alternative, that to stand and face, to fight back is not a viable or a safe option. Gambling addiction might appear from the outside to be all about risk, but for women who fall inside its painfully cruel trap it feels like the only way to play it safe.

Women with gambling addiction are rarely seeking a buzz or a high although a win here and there might temporarily lift a low mood. The win is not the aim. The motivation for gambling addiction is not the money.Women with gambling addiction chose forms of gambling that offer total absorption in the activity. When I first began to practice very few women presented for treatment with gambling addiction. Those who did would be addicted to traditional slot machine games.
The repetition of play, focussing on the symbols on the machine, the flashing lights, the unique sounds all combine to have a hypnotic effect. Play with traditional slots is relatively low cost meaning that provided she has enough coins to feed the machine hours can lost in the experience, taking her out of her life. She is distracted from her uncomfortable thoughts by gambling and therefore from any painful feelings which the thoughts trigger. She takes flight from the darkness of depression, or the relentless, exhausting hyper vigilance of anxiety, or the isolation and loneliness that form the stark, cold landscape of her life.
In the last three or four years I have treated ever greater numbers of women who have become addicted to gambling online. Often I am asked by the media to point the finger at which types of game are to blame for this rise; is it bingo, or poker? The findings of my clinical practice are that the type of game does not matter. The woman who is addicted to gambling is not gambling because she enjoys the game, but because she is not enjoying life outside of the game, in either her outer world or her inner world of thoughts and feelings. Just as with the woman who plays the slot machine, the addicted online gambler finds that when she is gambling, for that time all her fears and anxieties and world of pain fades away as they are outshone by the lights and primary colours on the screen.
Time ceases to exist.
She freezes her fears of not being good enough, or of her overwhelming responsibilities, or the painful reality of her life, or the dark thoughts and feelings that are the nightmare of her inner world, or fear of attack from another. Sadly, too as with any addiction she freezes her personal growth, her relationships, her potential; any good things that might be present in her life become frozen and, by comparison, meaningless to her.

A similar escape route might of course be taken through drugs or alcohol. Indeed many women come to me with patterns of cross addition. Those who do so often report feeling that recovery from gambling addiction is so much harder than that from drugs or alcohol. With gambling addiction it most frequently means going cold turkey. There are on the whole no drugs that have proven affective for the withdrawal symptoms as there might be for other addictions. In the UK the high prevalence of legal advertising for gambling products means that she must deal daily with temptation and painful reminders of that she craves, but is battling to resist.

For some women, their choice of gambling over other forms of addiction lies in the fact that while gambling they are able to psychologically and emotionally escape the harsh realities of their real world as they might with drug or alcohol use, but unlike with drugs or alcohol they remain physically present and in control. For the eighty four per cent of women I have worked with who have experienced abuse in childhood or domestic violence as an adult, this sense of control over physical self feels vital. The lack of obvious physical symptoms enables her to conceal her problem for years longer than she might conceal drug or alcohol addiction.
Gambling addiction has a high cost in time and of course in money ‘Gambling money,’ as it is seen through the haze of addiction, has no value other than to buy time out in the craved experience. What happens when her money runs out? A shocking crash into the harsh reality she was desperate to escape Now added to the original fear is anxiety and panic for her increasingly dire and suddenly all too terrifyingly real financial situation, and the even more vulnerable and insecure position this leaves her in. Crippled by shame and guilt at the consequences for herself and those close to her, in this moment she might tell herself in all sincerity “This is the last time. No more. I cannot go through this again”. It is at this point she will need all the help and support she can get to follow through with her resolve, because stalking along in the shadows, just behind her, are all the fears she was taking flight from in gambling only magnified by the anxiety and depression that the gambling addiction has created. The instinctive urges to escape will return despite all she rationally knows; that is that gambling addiction ultimately will destroy her.

The only way out of the trap is to somehow find the courage to stand and face her fears. It is only when we stop running and stand and turn and face what we are afraid of that we truly know what it is we need to deal with. We grow stronger through working out realistic options for how to deal with it, making adjustments to day to day life situations, resolving past pain. Hidden beneath the chaos of gambling addiction the women I have met with are amongst the most resilient, courageous, caring women I have had the pleasure to meet. They are survivors. They have taught me that with the right kind of support and guidance it is always possible to move beyond the frozen, lifeless landscape of gambling addiction and to thrive.

This weeks Recovery Rocks interview is with a recovered female gambler.