What Is Gamblers Anonymous®?

David Bishop

Gamblers Anonymous® (GA) is an international organization dedicated to helping addicts quit gambling and regain their lives. Similar to Alcoholics Anonymous® Gamblers Anonymous® follows a 12-step program aimed at getting addicts to admit they have a problem and emphasizes group therapy as a means of support and positive reinforcement. Many people with a gambling problem have credited Gamblers Anonymous® with helping them break the cycle of gaming addiction.

Group playing blackjack.
Group playing blackjack.

Problem gambling is an issue that affects millions of people worldwide. Compulsive gamblers seek the rush they get from wagering money even if they are losing. This pattern of behavior can spiral out of control as the gambler dedicates more of his time and resources to trying to recoup losses. Such an addiction can financially devastate a person and his or her family until the gambler seeks help. Compulsive gamblers may also fall victim to other addictions, such as drug and alcohol abuse.

Signs of compulsive gambling can include risking large sums of money at casinos.
Signs of compulsive gambling can include risking large sums of money at casinos.

Gamblers Anonymous® held its first meeting in 1957 in Los Angeles, California. As of 2011, there are chapters in all 50 U.S. states and more than 55 countries around the world. Many states have meetings seven days a week, and GA offers local and national hotlines for gamblers to call if they need someone to talk with. GA meetings are divided into closed meetings that are only open to those with a gambling addiction and open meetings that spouses and other family members are welcome to attend.

The Gamblers Anonymous® program is modeled after that of Alcoholics Anonymous® and shares many of the same features. The foundation of GA is a 12-step program that the addict should follow to work toward recovery. The steps begin with the addict admitting he or she has a problem and seeking guidance from a higher power to control his behavior. The gambler should then seek to make amends to those harmed by his or her addiction and try to help others with the same problem. While the program encourages a certain degree of spirituality, it is open to people of all faiths and atheists and does not consider itself a religious organization.

In practice, Gamblers Anonymous® consists of group meetings in which recovering gamblers offer each other support and guidance. GA places much of its emphasis on addressing the financial problems that its members have incurred. While the families of compulsive gamblers are not welcome at closed meetings, GA offers GAM-ANON and GAM-A-TEEN to support children and spouses, who are also welcome at open meetings within the main organization.

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