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by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

Clinicians differ in how problem gambling is defined. Generally speaking, however, it can be viewed as an activity whereby an individual is unable to resist impulses to gamble, thus leading to serious adverse personal or social consequences. Stopping problem gambling can be extremely difficult, but once stopped, the ongoing task is to stay stopped. Ex-problem gamblers find it extremely difficult to engage in recreational gambling again. For most problem gamblers, if not all, an abstinence-based approach to recovery is needed in order to enjoy a full and wholesome life. 

In order to maintain abstinence, it is crucial that an effective programme of recovery is in place to prevent relapse. Here are 10 ideas to help sustain your new way of life:

1. Plan ahead to avoid boredom

Ex-gamblers, so used to the highs and lows of active addiction, typically struggle with periods of boredom in their lives. Try to plan your days so that you aren’t tempted to fill empty space by gambling. Research(1) seems to back this up when findings showed that problem gamblers have a low threshold for boredom. When faced with an uninspiring task they will invariably avoid it or not complete it.

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2.  Live your life one day at a time

This means trying to forget about what happened yesterday, including your gambling losses. A desire to get even with the bookmakers or casinos will restrict your ability to focus on your recovery issues. Taking your life one day at a time also means not worrying about what tomorrow might hold for you in your life. Keep the focus on what you can do today that will help your ongoing recovery from addiction.

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3. Do something completely different

Your brain got used to working in a certain way when gambling, but it still needs to be constantly stimulated now that you have stopped. So try to set yourself new goals and tasks each day. When you are focused on problem-solving, you will be better able to cope with gambling urges when they come.

4. Rekindle an old hobby

Invariably, gamblers will lose interest in hobbies as they become more and more addicted to their gambling. After you have stopped, it is important to rekindle old hobbies. This will not only boost your self-esteem but will also provide a regular reminder of your new way of life. Like most behavioural addictions, it is important to find a more healthy activity to replace negative addiction. This will keep you focused on the benefits of your new way of life rather than on what you are missing out on.

5. Be especially vigilant leading up to special events

Research(2) has indicated that gamblers tend to have difficulties with the management of impulse control and with delaying gratification. Recognise the need to bolster your resolve when special events approach on the calendar. If you had been a sports gambler, for example, then special events such as football World Cups and European Championships, the Wimbledon tennis tournament, the Cheltenham Festival, Royal Ascot or the Ryder Cup can be particularly challenging. Perhaps you need to avoid the increased hype within the media surrounding these events, especially when bookmaking firms offer special offers.

6. Find ways that help you cope better with stress

Stress is the barometer of how we manage our emotions and can be a major contributing factor in relapse from gambling recovery. It is vital to find new, healthy ways to cope with stress, whether that is physical exercise, meditation or talking to a trusted friend. The risks are that the temptation to gamble will become stronger and stronger as you become more stressed.  

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7. Remind yourself that to gamble is to lose

It is important to remind yourself that in the absence of discipline you will almost certainly lose your money, regardless of your betting strategy. This is the fundamental fact of problem gambling. Your gambling urges might appear as seductive temptations when you are undergoing financial worries, especially as most forms of gambling offer the potential of immediate high reward. Reminding yourself that you can’t stop once you start can help you to deal with any urges to gamble.

8. Identify your self-sabotage triggers

Your clean time is precious. See any urge to gambling as a temporary menace and be prepared for them to emerge before special occasions such as birthdays, wedding anniversaries or exam time.

9. Visualise your betting firm or casino with a negative slogan

Associate your betting platform with a negative connotation and imagine a nasty image when you think of the operator’s logo. This way you can seek to embed the negative bias of gambling in your sub-conscious. It will also help you to remember exactly how low and desperate you felt when you stopped.

10. Write a daily gratitude list

Staying aware of how better your life is without gambling is vital in any relapse prevention strategy. If this conforms with any spiritual practice then all the better. When we have a grateful attitude, we are less likely to be searching for excitement. Try it, it really works.

Addictions can be seen as a failure to bond. A problem gambler has bonded with the activity of gambling because they couldn’t bond as fully with anything else. It might follow, therefore, that the opposite of addiction is not clean time per se, but human connection. That’s one reason why 12-step meetings, such as Gamblers Anonymous (GA), can help with the initial phase of acquiring abstinence.

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Counselling and talking therapy can help you to heal any old emotional wounds that are getting in your way. The process of building trust and rapport with a therapist can help to identify specific personal vulnerabilities to relapse, hidden triggers and to devise a plan for the successful maintenance of your recovery.

Culled from Counselling Directory