Behind the glamorous lights, flashy websites, and celebrity ads, gambling is far from an innocent hobby. While some people only play games casually, many turn gambling into an addiction, which is harmful both to physical and psychological health. When it gets out of control and you can no longer overcome the temptation of playing casino games, gambling can lead to anxiety-related problems, relationship conflicts, anger, and financial struggles, all of which can impact your life in a negative way.
According to a 2020 survey, about 1.4 million people in the UK are problem gamblers, but specialists point out that nearly half of those who struggle with gambling addiction aren't getting any help. Understanding that gambling has become harmful to you and your loved ones and deciding to stop is an important first step, but, like all other addictions, there is a constant risk of relapse.
As frustrating as it might feel, it’s important to remember that relapse is not a sign of failure or weakness. Most people who struggle with addiction relapse several times before they overcome it. Relapse triggers are unavoidable, but by having a plan in place, it will be easier to resist gambling urges. Here are seven strategies that can help you with that:
Resisting gambling urges is easier if you make it harder for them to reach you. To avoid the temptation, unsubscribe from all gambling websites so that you don’t receive any newsletters and special offers. In the UK, you can also exclude yourself from gambling by asking a gambling operator, be it online or offline, to exclude you from their services for a certain period of time. This way, you won’t be able to access their website or enter the physical location. Using an ad blocker and flagging casino ads on social media also helps with unsolicited offers from other operators.
More often than not, gambling relapse can be linked to certain triggers, such as:
For example, you may feel the need to gamble when you’re going through a lot of stress at work or when you meet with a certain group of people. Understanding what triggers the urge to gamble in your case will help you avoid them in the future, or at least prepare ahead of time.
One of the most common reasons why people take up gambling isn’t because they love the game mechanics so much, but because it helps them cope with stress. Gambling, like alcohol, provides some sort of momentary relief through the release of dopamine, which is a feel-good neurotransmitter. This is why you feel excited, even when you lose. However, gambling can be harmful in the long run, which is why you should never rely on it for stress management.
If you play casino games to unwind, look into healthier stress coping methods instead. Meditation, exercise, journaling, or talking to a friend are healthier stress coping mechanisms, even though they might not seem as exciting. Replacing one harmful behaviour is another common mistake. Drinking, smoking, or impulse shopping will give you a similar “high” as gambling, but the trick is to avoid these as well and find satisfaction in normal, relaxing activities.
Studies have shown that many problem gamblers tend to have a low boredom threshold, which is why they engage in risk-taking activities. If this is your case, planning your day to include as many engaging activities as possible can protect you from gambling temptations. Sometimes, the change can feel quite shocking, and you might discover that the friends you made while gambling do not support your new lifestyle and don’t want to enjoy these new activities with you. This is entirely normal, so you should also expect a change in relationships and friendships.
When gambling takes over your life, you may forget about hobbies that once used to bring you joy. After you stop, rediscovering an old hobby is a great way to stay focused on your goal. It will also keep your mind busy so that you don’t think about gambling as often, and it will be a confidence boost, as it will remind you that you are not the same as your addiction.
If you’ve spent years gambling, the idea of quitting may seem scary, impossible even. Many people have considered quitting, but they didn’t even try because they could not see themselves resisting the urge to play forever. But you don’t have to think about what you will be doing one year from now. Setting small-term goals can be more effective.
When you feel the itch to enter a casino, procrastinate it for at least one hour. Quite often, delaying the instant gratification is enough to make the urge go away or at least to weaken it. If not gambling ever again feels like a hard mountain to climb, take life one day at a time. Let go of what happened yesterday; if you had a lapse and lost money gambling, don’t try to get back at the casino by trying again. Focus on your journey to recovery, try to keep yourself busy with other things, and don’t worry about what will happen tomorrow.
The hardest moments for recovering problem gamblers are the ones leading up to special events such as world poker tournaments or sports competition finals. Because the media will cover them, it’s best to avoid the news or any outlet covering them. If your peers are talking about them, avoid getting involved in the conversation and seek refuge in other activities instead. It might feel like you’re missing out at first, but controlling your urge will fill you with confidence and inner peace.