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Gamblers Anonymous and the 12 Steps: How an informal society has altered a recovery process in accordance with the special needs of problem gamblers

Peter Ferentzy, Wayne Skinner, Paul Antze


This paper discusses how Gamblers Anonymous (GA) members approach the 12 Steps of recovery, originally advanced by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) as a spiritual solution to alcoholism. GA's approach finds unique expression in its fourth step, which in AA involves a written "moral inventory." In GA, members are expected to make a financial inventory alongside the moral one. Pecuniary matters are important to gamblers given the debt loads many of them carry. Debt, which is technically a Step 4 and Step 9 (making amends) issue, in practice is typically addressed early in the program, with preceding steps addressed later. The spiritual process central to 12 Step programs will normally not proceed in the expected manner when gamblers are substituted for substance abusers. For one, the process is not as linear for gamblers. GA members often work on the ninth step well before addressing those coming before it. The process assumes a pragmatic, and even haphazard, flavor. GA has altered a time-honored process of recovery - by means of grassroots wisdom and practice - to apply to the realities of problem gambling. While the paper's primary focus is GA's unique approach to the 12 Steps, this is addressed in the context of the changing nature of GA as a whole. Shifting spousal and gender roles along with a greater appreciation of the 12 Steps themselves are all endemic to a GA fellowship that seems to be in transition. While these changes have had some effect, many aspects of GA's approach to the 12 Steps remain intact: the focus on debt entails solutions seemingly unique to the special needs of problem gamblers.


Gamblers Anonymous; recovery; problem gambling; 12 Steps; financial issues; spirituality

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