How to Get Help for a Sports Betting Gambling Addiction

This piece is part of a series of stories about today’s sports-betting boom and how to combat a gambling addiction. To read the rest of the stories, click here.

THERE’S NO SINGLE path to recovery. Addressing a sports-betting addiction can mean pursuing multiple treatments or services, often simultaneously. If you don’t where to start, find out what each path is like, below, directly from the guys who’ve experienced them.

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I STARTED GAMBLING in 2017 through an offshore website during college basketball season. I did my research on responsible ways to gamble and kept the bets low at first. Then I started doing live bets. My max debt at one point was $120,000. By August 2020, after I maxed out my credit cards and depleted my savings, I felt suicidal and called my parents. They told me about Gamblers Anonymous.

My parents went to Gam-Anon meetings—meetings for friends and family of gambling addicts—that took place at the same time as my GA meetings, but I was still gambling. In one of my meetings, an older guy with lots of clean years under his belt looked at me and said, “You’re coming in here saying you want to stop [gambling], but what are you doing to stop?” That was a eureka moment for me. I’ve been going to GA at least twice a week since then, and I haven’t gambled for over a year now.

When you go to your first GA meeting, you should go early, introduce yourself to others, then sit and listen. Eventually, you’ll be asked to read your answers to GA’s 20 questions. Each meeting helps support and encourage you to come back and keep sharing your struggles.

It’s been therapeutic to be around people who under-stand the financial, emotional, and relationship problems I’ve gone through. —MATT, 29, NORTH CAROLINA

sports betting paths to recovery breaker
sports betting paths to recovery therapy cost varies depending on insurance

IT BEGAN WITH poker, then it moved to sports—UFC fights, NASCAR races, things I thought I knew well enough to have an advantage and make money. When I moved to New Jersey in 2021, where sports betting is legal, it got even more out of control. I saw the commercials where they promise to give you a free bet. I won that first bet, and from there I just kept betting.

By early 2022, my paychecks were just going to paying off loans. Then my fiancée asked me why I was in debt. I had kept it secret up until that point. Now, for the first time, I had to verbalize that I had a problem.

I started going to GA weekly. During the meetings, I realized a lot of the other people were seeing therapists in addition to attending meetings. GA continues to bean important part of my recovery, but I wanted one-on-one personalized conversations where someone would force me to dig deeper into my own story.

Some sessions I just talked and cried. Others were more of a back-and-forth conversation—the kind of exchange you don’t tend to see in GA. Ultimately, therapy taught me to better communicate and manage my emotions. So much of it was adjusting my mindset and expectations. My therapist once told me, “If you could check off at the end of the night that you didn’t place a bet, it was a good day.” —STEVE,* 32, NEW JERSEY

sports betting paths to recovery breaker
sports betting paths to recovery inpatient treatment program cost varies depending on insurance

IN 2020, DURING my second year of college, I began placing bets on football. I was making 200 to 300 bets per week—about $100,000 worth of bets in just a month. Then I got into online poker and, soon after I turned 21, casino poker. I went back to sports betting, trying to recoup my losses. But I just kept losing. By the summer of 2022, I started stealing my parents’ credit cards, and soon a bookie was calling them, making demands. My parents told me I needed to get help.

At first, I tried therapy, then an outpatient program. Neither felt right. I didn’t feel like my therapist could empathize with my particular addiction, and I was put in a general outpatient program where I was the only one with a gambling addiction. In December 2022, I went to Algamus, an inpatient rehab facility in Arizona. I really benefited from someone taking control away from me and being in an environment surrounded by people who shared the same urges as me.

The Algamus program lasts between five and six weeks. A typical day entailed group therapy in the morning, where we would talk and do various journal exercises. We would have lunch and then continue with group therapy before having some physical exercise, like a gym class. Then we would do GA with counselors who were former gambling addicts.

I haven’t gambled now for five months. There aren’t many problem-gambling treatment centers in America, and I’m actually considering starting my own. —LUCAS, 22, SOUTH CAROLINA

sports betting paths to recovery breaker
sports betting paths to recovery intensive outpatient program cost varies depending on insurance

I STARTED GAMBLING at 18 years old, mostly on fantasy football. After college, betting on sports became a way to connect with other men and build camaraderie. Most of this was through [an illegal] sportsbook, but around 2018 I started using the [legal] apps with my friends. The apps advertised all kinds of sign-up deals and member perks. So I downloaded them all.

Anything that prevented me from sitting down and sweating through a ball game with money on the line became an object of resentment. I was borrowing money from my father and friends, and I was keeping a separate account to pay off debts. (I’d maxed out at nearly $30,000.) I literally didn’t have $25 to my name to buy a bottle of wine for dinner with my wife.

Finally, this past February, I called my mom and asked for money. “I’ll help you,” she said, “but it’s not gonna be the financial help that you’re asking for.” She contacted someone in charge of an outpatient treatment program.

I was given an intensive schedule for the first 90 days. Wednesday and Saturday were GA meetings in person or on Zoom. Tuesday was group therapy at the IOP for about two hours. Thursday was one-on-one therapy for an hour at the IOP. I also did family sessions with my wife and father—people I’d really hurt.

I’ve been clean now since February, and I’ve found a new kind of camaraderie. That fellowship of people around me, keeping me on the right path, is irreplaceable. —CHRISTIAN,* 32, NEW JERSEY

*Name has been changed to protect identity.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with a gambling addiction, contact 1-800-GAMBLER. Ready to take the next step? Book an appointment with Kindbridge Behavioral Health, and receive a 20 percent discount on your first therapy session using the code “MensHealth20.” Make sure to also include Men’s Health as the referral source on the intake form.

This article originally appears in the September 2023 issue of Men’s Health.

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Assistant Editor

Joshua St Clair is an Assistant Editor at Men’s Health Magazine. 

This article was originally posted here.

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