Throughout recovery, one of the biggest challenges someone with a gambling addiction will face is avoiding a relapse.
In this guide, we’ll be explaining some of the best steps to take to help prevent a gambling relapse.
Plan Ahead to Avoid Boredom
One of the biggest triggers many individuals struggling with addiction find themselves faced with is boredom.
Without anything to do, it is easy for the mind to resort to gambling as something to fill the time.
That’s why we would always recommend a daily routine to anyone struggling with a gambling addiction that gives structure to their lives and a plan for things to do to fill their time other than gambling.
Perhaps you could start a new hobby or rekindle an old one, such as baking, sports or gardening to keep you occupied during the quieter parts of your day, or find something you enjoy such as a new TV show.
Practice Delayed Gratification and Self-Regulation
With a gambling addiction, your brain has become used to working in a certain way.
Gambling activates the brain’s reward system in a similar way to how drugs do, by releasing a higher amount of dopamine and, eventually, the individual becomes tolerant and needs to gamble more and more in order to feel the same levels of pleasure.
This is why stopping gambling is so tricky- the individual constantly craves that same feeling of instant gratification after a win, despite the negative consequences that follow.
In order to reduce gambling cravings, you should try to find something that challenges you over a longer period of time and offers small delayed gratification, such as completing a crossword or jigsaw puzzle to begin with.
Over time, you can increase the length and size of these challenges, such as completing a book or going on a long walk and enjoying a reward at the end of it such as a nice lunch.
This is called practising delayed gratification- helping to retrain our brains to self regulate better and crave instant gratification less. This allows us to enjoy the smaller things in life a lot more.
The Marshmallow Test
Many schools self regulation and delayed gratification to younger children by doing something called the ‘marshmallow test’.
In this test, a child is offered a choice between one small but immediate reward (a marshmallow) or two small rewards (a marshmallow and a chocolate) if they wait for a period of time.
This teaches them to wait longer for greater gratification and tests their patience.
Avoid Triggering Events
If you know there are certain things or events that are likely to trigger your desire to gamble, it is better to avoid it than to take the risk and relapse.
For example, if you particularly enjoyed sports gambling, then it is probably best to avoid sports bars or pubs around the time of big events such as the World Cup or the Grand National where there will be many people placing bets.
It may also be wise to avoid social media around the time of these events or use tools such as Twitter’s ‘mute’ options. Here you can choose words or topics that you don’t want to see any tweets about.
Remove Access to Gambling Apps and Websites
Online gambling apps and websites have given individuals 24/7 access to casino and sports betting at the click of a button. Not only does this make gambling itself incredibly easy, it has also made it easier to hide from loved ones.
A recent study led by Aston University Psychology Professor, Richard Tunney, found that the number of bets made via a smartphone was higher and done more frequently than those who go to a physical casino or bookies because users tend to check their phones regularly throughout the day, and as they do, they often place a bet.
To stop yourself from using gambling apps and websites, you can do something called self-exclusion.
Self-exclusion is a method that many people with gambling addictions use to set a barrier between themselves and gambling venues or services by having them refuse you entry to their premises or websites.
By law, self-exclusion must be provided as an option by gambling providers in the UK. The process starts by you making the decision to exclude yourself from venues or websites where you may be tempted to gamble.
You can then do any of the following:
- Register at www.gamstop.com to exclude yourself from websites
- Call 0800 2942060 to nominate the betting shops you wish to self-exclude from
- Visit www.bingo-association.co.uk to exclude yourself from bingo premises
- Visit www.nationalcasinosforum.co.uk to exclude yourself from all land-based casinos in the UK.
You can set your self-exclusion from 6 months up to 5 years to ensure you can stop gambling for as long as you see fit.
Gambling operators will do everything possible to help you, however, responsibility for sticking to this lies with you.
Find Better Ways to Cope with Stress
Many people use gambling as a distraction or a way to cope with stress in their lives, however, it can actually end up leading to greater stress when the individual loses money and cannot win it back or when their gambling habits start to affect their everyday lives and relationships.
In order to prevent a gambling relapse, it is crucial to target the root of the addiction, whether that be stress or something else in your life that you are struggling with and find better techniques to cope with it.
Healthy techniques for coping with stress include:
Exercise has been proven to be a powerful stress reliever as it releases endorphins- the natural substances that help you to feel better mentally.
If exercise isn’t already part of your routine, you might want to start out with something simple such as going for a walk or a swim after work.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Although the connection between our diet and mental health is a complex one, research shows strong links between what we eat and how we feel.
This is because of the way your brain and gastrointestinal tract (often called the ‘second brain) interact with each other.
Maintaining a healthy diet promotes the growth of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, which positively influences the production of neurotransmitters, helping to combat stress.
On the flip side, a diet that is high in processed unhealthy foods can cause inflammation of the gut which negatively impacts the production of neurotransmitters and in turn lowers your mood.
Sugar commonly causes this type of inflammation and feeds the bad bacteria living in your GI tract, causing a temporary spike in feel good transmitters such as dopamine and causing a sugar rush.
This is fleeting and is often followed shortly by a crash, causing you to feel low and stressed.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Taking just 20 minutes out of your day to wind down and relax can help you to manage stress and improve your overall mental wellbeing.
There is a wide range of relaxation techniques to try, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness meditation. Nowadays, there are plenty of websites, videos and apps to guide you for free.
Get the Right Kind of Support with a Gambling Addiction
If you find yourself close to a gambling relapse, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. At Acquiesce, we provide a programme and treatment which can help you develop better skills and techniques for preventing a gambling relapse.
Get in touch with our team today to find out how our gambling rehabilitation programme can help you.