Gambling Addiction during the Holiday Season

Contributor: Kathryn Hostettler, LCSW, LCADC is the Clinical Coordinator for Dual Diagnosis and Mental Health Programs at GenPsych

Santa Claus & ChristmasIt’s November 1, the kids have barely finished sorting Halloween candy and you have already been inundated with dozens of emails suggesting you get on that holiday shopping list now, a list that includes:

  • Parents
  • Siblings
  • Siblings’ children
  • Aunts
  • Uncles
  • Friends
  • Neighbors
  • Coworkers
  • Teachers

This is a list that will continue to grow well into December.

The job has sent information about the holiday party wanting to know if you plan to attend.

Welcome to the holiday season, a time that brings both great happiness and great stress at the same time. According to an American Psychological Association Study, of those surveyed, 31-44% report an increase in stress during the holidays, and among the greatest stressors cited are money (62%) and the commercialism (53%) of the holidays (APA, 2006) [1].

If you or your loved one is a problem gambler, the holidays can be a time of greater risk. Why? With increased financial stress, the problem gambler may be tempted to try to win big to pay for holidays expenses. That online gambling site is only a few clicks away. If only there was a windfall to make the holidays brighter!

Even if the online temptations can be avoided, you can easily be exposed to more opportunities to gamble during the holidays that include card games at family functions, sports-betting for key holiday games, the office 50/50 holiday raffle, and vacations to resort destinations to gambling venues like Las Vegas or the Caribbean for example.

In addition, many well-meaning friends and family tend to give lottery tickets as cost-effective gifts. All are big triggers for the problem gambler and can lead to relapse. So what can be done to ensure a safer holiday season?

Know your triggers and how to manage them

money in handDon’t wait to find yourself in a vulnerable position and hoping you can make a good decision. If you attend two Gamblers Anonymous meetings per week, increase that number to three. Set up regular calls with your sponsor and supports so that you can be accountable and stay connected.

If you see a therapist, it’s essential to make and commit to sessions during the holidays. Yes, life gets very busy during this time but missing appointments and meetings can result in increased risk for relapse.

Develop and stick to a budget

Determine in advance how much you can spend on holiday activities and gifts, and set the money aside in a separate account if possible. Share with someone else (your partner, friend, sponsor, for example) so they can help you stay accountable.

Talk with your bank and credit card lenders about putting limits on spending and withdrawal amounts during the holiday season (and all year long for that matter).

Determine what events are safe

Be smart written on paperIf the holiday party is at or near the local casino, don’t attend. If Uncle Bob and Aunt Lucy’s holiday party includes a poker game, let them know you can’t stay for the game, but you would love to stop by for a visit before or after. If your friends get together to watch holiday or bowl games, use a similar approach.

If you typically go to a resort that includes casinos on your holiday vacation, plan something different. Try a culinary tour and learn about a new cuisine, book an active vacation that includes both exploration and healthy physical activity, or participate in a volunteer vacation where you can be of service to others in need.

Beware loneliness and isolation

Not everyone enjoys the holidays. For many, it is a time of increased depression which can be a trigger for relapse. If you take medication, don’t skip or double your dose on your own. Make an appointment with your medication management provider to discuss adjustments during difficult or vulnerable times.

Try to connect with friends or loved ones on the phone or via email. Seek out the help of a therapist for individual or group counseling. If you can’t get out, there are online support groups available for gambling, anxiety, and depression among other issues. A quick Google search will provide you with many sites to access any time of day.

Be mindful of gift-giving and receiving

Portrait Of A Family Portrait Of A FamilyLet others know what’s on your list. Be specific. Avoid gifts of cash or gift certificates to high risk venues. Don’t give or receive lottery tickets. It’s especially important when thinking about gifts for minors. Don’t encourage underage gambling by giving scratch-offs or lottery tickets to young people.

The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) has a yearly Lottery Holiday Campaign designed to promote education about gambling and responsible gift-giving. You can find more information and ways to participate on their website.

The most important safeguard against relapse is to plan ahead. Using these tips will help you prepare for high risk situations and make for more a more enjoyable holiday season.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What tools have been helpful to your recovery from gambling during the holidays?


[1]: American Psychological Association. (2006) Holiday Stress. Retrieved from

Kathryn HostettlerAbout the author: Kathryn Hostettler, LCSW, LCADC is the Clinical Coordinator for Dual Diagnosis and Mental Health Programs at GenPsych in Lawrenceville, NJ, and a clinician in private practice in Pennington, NJ.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions. These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on November 11, 2015
Published on

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.