Ways for family and friends to support gamblers

6 Feb 18
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Family Support

This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.

One of the most important things you can do when you’re close to someone who is struggling with gambling is empower the person you care about to reach out for help.

However, what many people forget is that in order for someone to be able to ask for help, they need to first realise they have a problem. It is very difficult for anybody to realise this if the people around them either enable their problem or constantly point out their problems to them.

Out of love, guilt or fear of confrontation, many family and friends actually enable their loved one to continue gambling. For example, they might pay their bills or lend them money until the next payday. These actions prevent the gambler from being able to truly experience the negative consequences of their gambling, which in turn prevents them seeking help.

However, the goal is not to let loved ones hit rock bottom feeling unsupported. It is important to let them know that you care about them and communicate your reasons for acting the way that you are. If you continue to take responsibility for their problems you will prevent them from being able to take responsibility for their actions.

By taking a slight step back from the gambler and allowing them to discover the consequences of their gambling on their own, you will actually enable them to understand the need for help. It is only at this point the gambler will feel invested in addressing their problems and develop the motivation required to make a change.

Some strategies to help support gamblers to seek help include:

  • Seeking professional support to help you develop a realistic plan to help your significant other.
  • Remaining calm when speaking about gambling and its consequences. Emotional confrontation can lead to resistance and make it difficult for the gambler to think logically.
  • Consider how you will handle requests for money.
  • Continue to provide emotional support, particularly in relation to ongoing help-seeking behaviour.
  • Acknowledge your impulse to cover up or help the gambler. While these strategies may seem helpful in the short term, in the long term they will prolong the gambling.
  • Ask the gambler if there are any specific reasons why they do not want to seek help. Just by talking about help-seeking, you may help them overcome the shame or stigma associated with seeking help.

It is also important to respect the person’s decision not to seek help. Remind them you are there to support them when they are ready and seek your own professional support.

For free and confidential support from a specialist counsellor start chatting here or call 1800 858 858. Our counsellors will be able to provide you with the details of free counselling and financial counselling services in a location near you.

The Hidden Resource is a KEY

16 Jan 18
Hidden Resources
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Not sure if you have the resources available to you to change your gambling? The good news is that all of us have a hidden resource within us that often holds the keys to successful and lasting change. Using our knowledge of what worked in the past, to inform our future behaviour, can be the key to success. By looking back at past successes and finding what helped them get there you can find strategies that work for you to solve your problems.

Here are some hidden resources our callers have shared.

Social support – seeking support from someone you trust 

Nancy* explained how she successfully completed a half marathon – despite struggling with time management and commitment to exercise, she reached this important goal. When we talked about how she did this, a key factor in her success was that a good friend was training with her. She remembered a few mornings each week they ran together. They celebrated their progress together and kept each other on track. 

She also found it helpful to have social support in her journey when changing her gambling – she regularly visited the forum, staying connected with others who had similar goals to her, kept her motivated.  She also asked her friend to help keep her on track when she felt vulnerable. 

Self-Monitoring – taking time to look at what is going on

Tom* explained how he had lost a large amount of weight. He stuck to his weight loss plan despite being stressed. In the past stress would cause him to overeat.  When we discussed what had helped him, he remembered each day entering his exercise and calorie intake into an app, and weighing himself each week. This became routine, and he became used to paying attention to what he was eating, and saw changes.

He realised the benefits of self-monitoring and applied this to changing his gambling – he monitored his expenditure and urges and tracked his progress. 

He soon realised that he was spending more than planned after he tracked his money. As he reduced his spending and saw the benefits, he felt encouraged to continue. He also monitored when he was experiencing an urge to gamble. This was helpful in raising his awareness of triggers, putting in place strategies to avoid the temptation to gamble.  

Professional Help – connecting with a trained professional counsellor 

Ling* found speaking to a professional and getting advice and support was useful in difficult times. Having this space where she could talk freely and confidentially made it possible to work through painful and challenging issues. 

Over time she looked forward to her weekly sessions with her regular counsellor, as she found them helpful for developing strategies, and speaking with someone who understood her. Sometimes she still chatted with a counsellor online, it was helpful to have a quick chat when she needed support in-between sessions and found this kept on track in difficult moments.

How About You?

What kinds of things have you found helpful in changing your life? Tapping into these hidden resources can be helpful to make changes to your gambling. If you have something you would like to share why not join the forum and chat with others today?

If you would like to chat about what has helped in the past or would like to chat about getting some additional support, start a session here or call the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858. 

Starting the new year - a good time to make a change!

30 Dec 17
What's your New Year's Resolution?
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Going into a new year can be a good time to make a change in your life. If you are working on changing your gambling, it can also be a good time to reinforce this with a New Year's resolutions, whatever stage of change you are at you can set yourself a goal that will help you start the new year off well. 

What is a New Year's Resolution?

A New Year's resolution is a promise made by a person to themselves for the year, usually to address something they want to improve.

Since you are here, it’s likely you want to change your gambling; it makes sense to think about making a New Year’s Resolution that helps you work on making this change.

Finding your resolution

To get started, write a list of some things you could do to improve your life and reduce the impact gambling is having. Once you have done this, choose one of these goals as your resolution.

Be careful about the goal you choose, it's tempting to set yourself a big goal, but think about what is achievable for you at the moment, it’s important to make your goal realistic. Once you have reached one goal, you can set yourself another and slowly tick them off, don't forget to celebrate your achievements along the way

Need ideas?

Here are a few ideas for resolutions you could make:

  • When I feel tempted to gamble I will call my counsellor or gamblers help.
  • I will change my gambling routine to break the cycle. On days where I would have gambled I will plan activities like going for a walk or catch up for a coffee with friends.
  • I will improve my physical health by eating healthy, exercising or sleeping better.
  • I will try new things – i.e. joining a cooking class or trying yoga.
  • I will avoid high-risk situations I know will make it hard to meet my goal – i.e. avoid carrying excess money, not going to gaming venues, having a plan on payday, or not gambling alone when bored or upset.

What next?

Now you have chosen your goal, make a plan for how you will achieve it. Having a plan and finding things that will help you achieve it can make the journey much easier.

To help you stay on track tell a person or a few people you trust about your New Year’s Resolution as their support can help.

Choose someone who understands where you are at and will support you, this small change that can have a huge impact on reaching your goals for the New Year.

Look after yourself

Also be kind to yourself, people who have changed their gambling may have had slips or lapses along the way, it’s a normal part of recovery. As you become more confident and find what works for you these slips will happen less often.

Remember you don’t have to do it alone! Our counsellors are here to help you anytime and we can also refer you to local services that can help you change your gambling.

Need help deciding what your resolution will be and how you will achieve it? You can confidentially chat with one of our counsellors now.

Is someone close to you gambling too much?

12 Dec 17

If you are reading this blog, you are probably concerned that someone close to you is gambling too much. Perhaps you have noticed some changes in their behaviour or financial situation but you aren’t sure whether you should be concerned or not. We will take you through some of the things to look for and if you think their gambling is a concern, what steps you should take next.

Is someone close to you gambling too much?

Take a minute

Before we get too far, we want you to take a moment to prepare yourself. Depending on the signs, you may strongly believe that someone close to you is gambling too much and, if this is the case, it can be tough to deal with. You may feel angry or hurt, this is a normal reaction and you have every right to feel this way. Before you do anything try to take some time to process and look after yourself. While it can be tempting to act straight away, it will be better for everyone, including yourself, if you have a strategy before approaching the person. It’s probably best to seek help from a counsellor who can talk you through this and we will take you through some options in a minute.

Some of the signs to look out for:

  • Are they secretive about how they have been spending time?
  • Are they secretive about their finances?
  • Are they not sharing passwords for their bank accounts?
  • Do they always collect the mail and prevent you from seeing bills?
  • Have you ever noticed money missing from shared accounts, or elsewhere?
  • Do they sometimes ask to borrow money and can’t give a good reason as to why?
  • Do they promise that they will stop gambling, yet continue to gamble?
  • Do they sell their valuables for unexplained reasons?
  • Do they go through periods of appearing to have large amounts of money, followed by periods when they are low on cash?
  • Are they easily agitated?
  • Do they seem ‘distant’ or ‘avoidant’?
  • Are they disinterested in family/sports/work commitments?

How are you feeling?

When people notice someone close to them is experiencing problems with gambling they may experience mixed emotions. It can be a relief to finally understand what is going on or perhaps you are feeling shocked or surprised. Feeling a range of emotions is normal.

What to do next

At this stage getting some help is a great idea, try not to confront the person straight away, as it is likely emotions will be running high and it could make the situation more difficult.

Speaking to a professional can be a great first step, counsellors are available online or on the telephone by calling 1800 858 858, a lot of people find this is a good starting point as they can speak to someone at a time and place that works for them. Chatting to a counsellor is free and confidential, they are available 24/7, all of them are trained professionals and they are here to support anyone being affected by gambling.

If you aren’t’ ready to speak to someone yet we also have a lot of information on helping others and looking after yourself that you can refer to anytime.

You may also consider joining our online forum, where you can chat with significant others, getting support from those who have similar experiences.  

Just remember you are not alone and support is available!

Whatever your limits are, it is a great time to think about them

1 Dec 17
know your gambling limits
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This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.

What do we mean by this?

Say you’ve gone to the races with your mates. You’ve had a great day; the sun was shining, you’ve had a few drinks and shared a few laughs. You’ve also had a few bets, and after the last race of the day, you’ve lost $150.

Take a moment to think about how you feel? Do you feel comfortable with how much you lost in the context of an enjoyable day out with your friends? Perhaps you feel regret, or maybe you feel guilty?

After losing money gambling, a lot of people can regret their actions or feel guilty, regardless of how much money they’ve spent.  But does this mean that you have a gambling problem? It depends on what you do next.

At the end of the day

Some of your friends are ready to head home, while others want to head out for dinner and a few more drinks. Do you:

  1. Join your friends for dinner?
  2. Go home to rest after a long day?
  3. Stay at the races to keep betting?
  4. Join your friends for dinner but continue betting on your phone?

Answering yes to option A or B means that you are able to exercise control over your gambling.

Answering yes to option C or D may indicate that your gambling is out of balance with other activities in your life. Perhaps you could do with some support to put some limits in place.

While most people feel guilty and regret losing their money after gambling, the majority quickly forget about it and move on with their lives. But problem gamblers cannot. They are driven to try and win back their losses, and often end up losing far more money.

What was your motivation?

Still not sure how you feel about your gambling? Let’s take a look at your motivation for going to the races. Was it to:

  1. Enjoy spending time with your friends?
  2. Have a fun day out?
  3. Win money?
  4. Take your mind off other problems in your life?

Answering yes to either A or B means that you may gamble for a bit of entertainment and to be social. If you gamble for these reasons, it’s likely you know your limits and are gambling responsibly.

Answering yes to either C or D indicates that you may not understand the risks of gambling or may use gambling as an unhealthy coping mechanism. Getting support for this may be useful.

Many people enjoy betting on the races during the Spring Carnival to have a bit of fun and to be social. While almost all people who gamble are hoping to win money, most people realise that they will probably lose and are comfortable with that. If you are not comfortable with losing money, or have unrealistic expectations about winning, you are more likely to feel regret or guilt when you lose. If you gamble to avoid your problems, or out of boredom or loneliness, gambling will, at best, only temporarily distract you from these problems.

What was your game plan?

Still not sure how to feel about your gambling? Let’s take a look at what your plan was for the day. Keeping in mind that you have lost $150, did you originally:

  1. Set yourself a limit of $150?
  2. Set yourself a limit of $50?

If you answered A, you were able to exercise control over your gambling and risked a manageable amount of money.

If you answered B, you may have trouble limiting the amount of money that you gamble. This could lead to adverse consequences for you and getting support may be helpful.

While most people who go to the races will lose money, many have an idea beforehand about how much they are willing to lose. When they reach that amount, they stop betting. However, problem gamblers generally do not have the self-control to stop at this point and often end up losing more than they can afford to.

If any of these behaviours sound familiar, you may have a problem with gambling or be at risk of developing a problem at a later stage. Either way, rest assured that help is available. You do not need to be at crisis point before reaching out for help.

Getting help is as easy as visiting the Gambling Help website to access self-assessment tools and advice, or if you would like to talk to someone call the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858 to speak with a trained counsellor. This service is free, confidential and available 24/7 anywhere in Australia.

Alternatively, having a chat with a trusted friend or family member about your gambling concerns can also help and may greatly reduce the likelihood of you developing a problem.

Remember, whatever your limits are, help is available anytime.

Major sporting events & keeping your gambling under control

28 Sep 17
gambling help

Caution: this article may be triggering for some people who are trying to avoid gambling.

It’s that time of year where lots of major sporting events are happening right across Australia, potentially making the pull towards gambling stronger than usual.

Even though it may be tough, it is possible to keep your gambling under control. Here are some tips on how to do it.

Have a plan

In the lead-up to any event that you may find difficult, think about how you are going to work through it. You may like to have a chat with one of our counsellors about how to prepare a plan.

It may be best to try to avoid gambling and temptations on the day of an event. Try to take part in activities that don’t have any link to the event. This could include going for a walk, watching a film, reading a book or doing a crossword.

There are quite a few public holidays dedicated to sporting events. On these days people may host gatherings of family and friends that are centred around these events. Depending on how comfortable you feel, you may want to talk to the person hosting the event beforehand and explain that you don’t want to gamble. Also try to keep yourself busy, you could do this by looking after the kids, cooking or barbecuing.

Should I go?

If you are considering going to the event or gathering, think about whether this is a really good idea. If you must attend, take a moment to think carefully about whether to gamble; especially if you have been trying hard to abstain. You may try to gamble responsibly but carefully consider your options before taking part.

Many people call the Gambling Help Line upset that they have lost control and been unable to stick to their initial plans to limit  or abstain from betting.

For example:

Sam called for help after he gambled at the races. He described planning how he would manage the excitement of his favourite sporting  event for weeks. He did not consider  that friends would encourage him to bet more money than he had planned. After a few drinks, he gave in to this peer pressure. He took his credit card, which gave him easy access to money that he did not wish to gamble. This one session at the races caused him significant financial consequences.

Here are a few tips that may help you avoid Sam's situation:

  • Take a moment to consider the temptation to gamble at an event or gathering where big sporting events will be featured.
  • Setting a betting limit can be helpful, especially if you can restrict your access to money.
  • Only take money that you can afford to lose.
  • During the day, keep track of how much you are spending.
  • Try not to drink too much, as this lowers inhibitions.
  • Have a support buddy who can help you identify when it’s time to stop betting, or even leave.
  •  Take regular breaks from betting. For example, touch base with friends or have some food.
  •  Come up with an explanation, that you are comfortable with, for why you may need to leave early or manage peer pressure.

Remember that you can always seek support from a qualified counsellor who is ready to have a chat – get started here.

Are you being affected by gambling? Our forum may help!

19 Sep 17
Forum Screenshot
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“I truly believe that if it wasn't for logging on to this forum daily I would still be gambling. I said to my husband I believe this forum is a life saver.” – Anonymous Forum member

If you are being affected by gambling and could use some support from people who understand, the Gambling Help Online (GHO) Forum might be the place for you.

People being affected by gambling often tell us that they feel quite isolated, it can be tough talking to people about it, so finding a community of people who understand you can be really transformative.

Who is it for?

The GHO Forum is a space for anyone affected by gambling, whether you’re someone who gambles, a concerned family member or friend, a colleague or a health professional. 

On the Forum, you can connect with others, share your stories, setbacks and strategies for change, access information, discuss hot topics and see the latest in gambling research.

How does it work?

Some people start by simply reading other people’s posts, and find this really helpful. Or you can sign up here, remember you don’t need to use your real name, in fact, it’s probably better for your anonymity that you don’t. Once you sign up you start posting and chatting to people straight away.

The Forum is facilitated by counsellors, though we prefer to take a back seat in conversation; we want this to be a space where you find support in your peers. However, we will post occasionally, and feel free to bounce ideas off us, ask us questions, or even private message us if you have a concern. We’re here to support you! 

Please bear in mind though that facilitators are on rotating shifts, so sometimes might not be able to respond straight away. We will always respond within a period of time (usually 48 hours), but if you're looking for an immediate response, you can always click here to access our online counselling service.

The benefits of joining

Lot’s of people choose to hang out on the Forum without posting, which is absolutely fine, it’s full of wonderful information from people who have lived experience changing their gambling.

There are even more benefits for those who join up and share their experience’s, as they can get some of what they are feeling out into a non- judgemental, dedicated place where can discuss issues related to their gambling.

It’s normal for some people to initially have feelings of shame when sharing the details of the gambling with others, but it is exhausting and unhelpful to keep these issues to yourself.

Once you get started it will be easier and the feeling of being included with a group of people dealing with similar concerns can be really empowering and improve your well-being.

“One of the most liberating things I have done in many years!” Anonymous Forum Member

Many members say that the positive reinforcement between members helps to keep each other on the right track and that reading other people’s posts about overcoming the same challenges can be inspiring. 

Remember you can share as much as you are comfortable with, all our forum members stared somewhere and this is part of the journey, so why not join up today?

Relapse Part 3 - Gambling Urges

15 Aug 17
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This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.


Welcome to the third part of the relapse blog – in the previous blogs we discussed the impact of environmental factors in relapse. In this blog we will look at the urge to gamble and relapse. The urge to gamble has been well documented in research to be one of the most powerful factors related to relapse (Oakes et al, 2011, Oei and Gordon 2008, Smith et al, 2013). Even after recovery, many gamblers will still have to deal with urges that often come out of the blue and increase the risk of relapse. Despite the gamblers best intentions not to gamble once the urge rises it can become difficult to resist the temptation to gamble.

Gamblers report triggers often unique to their own circumstances that result in an automatic response to gamble often described as excitement, an adrenaline rush, a compulsion or an urge. Some of these triggers are having money, being bored, feeling stressed, being lonely, experiencing physical pain and or managing every day bills. Gambling can distract from the stress associated with for example loneliness pain or financial worries.

Participants in a study by Oakes et al 2011 described the urge to gamble as below:

“It is a terrible drag once it gets into your system and I do not know what drags it, probably the thought of hitting that Jackpot or I have to get back that money that I have lost”.

“There is nothing anybody says or does that is going to stop you. It’s a build-up of intensity and a force that you just go”.

Why is this important?

These quotes highlight the importance of addressing the urge to gamble before it becomes too strong to resist. If a person can address the urge to gamble successfully they will be better protected against relapsing. Most people who attend a gambling counsellor find it very helpful to look at specific urge management strategies to help reduce the risks of relapse.

Managing Urges

Just think – if you knew you were going to run a marathon in twelve months time, you would need to start training before the date. You’d need to get used to running short distances, then longer, and build up to the final distance. It would be unrealistic to expect you to wake up tomorrow and run the full distance without doing any preparation! We could also expect along the way that you might experience setbacks, such as injuries and loss of motivation. But if you have the right support and if the goal has a meaning for you, it is likely you will get at least part of the way there in the end.

It is similar when you think about urge management. Urges to gamble can be incredibly strong, and some people even describe feeling like they are not in control of themselves. It is important to remember that, as a gambling problem develops over time, it will take time to manage your urges.  It takes time to begin to understand when you will have an urge, and to identify the times that you’ve been able to sit with your urges without giving in to them. In many ways it might feel like running a marathon, because it is a work in progress.

When you think about it, an urge is just a pathway in your brain that has been activated before by gambling. The longer you can go without ‘re-engaging’ it, the weaker the urge will become. After some time, it will lose a lot of its power and urgency, and you’ll be able to focus on other things. A trained gambling counsellor can provide support about how to ‘train’ yourself to tolerate and manage urges.

If you’re struggling to manage your urges, or they feel uncontrollable, it is a good idea to seek some ongoing support by talking to a friend or family member you can trust. Limiting your access to money is also important when you’re struggling with your urges to gamble.

If you’d like some more help with managing urges, call the Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling. We also have some Self Help Strategies to help you look at ways to manage your urges that are freely available on:


Oakes, J.E., Pols, R.G., Battersby, M.W., Lawn, S.J., Pulvirenti, M., & Smith, D.P., 2011. A focus group study of predictors of relapse in electronic gaming machine problem gambling, Part 1:Factors that ‘push’ towards relapse. Journal of Gambling Studies

Oei, T., & Gordon, L. (2008). Psychosocial factors related to gambling abstinence and relapse in members of gamblers anonymous. Journal of Gambling Studies, 24(1), 91.

Smith, D, Battersby, M, Pols, R, Harvey, P, Oakes, J & Baigent, M 2013, ‘Predictors of Relapse in Problem Gambling: A Prospective Cohort Study’, Journal of Gambling Studies, pp. 1-15.

Relapse Part 2 - Environmental factors that can lead to relapse

8 Aug 17
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This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.


Problem gamblers often describe their relapses with a lot of emotion. It can be devastating to fall back into old patterns of behaviour and feel like you are back at square one again. All of that hard work can feel like it was for nothing. Often relapse is described as the most devastating thing that a person recovering from an addiction can experience.

Pia described her relapse after 6 months of staying away from the pokies:

‘I couldn’t believe I’d done it again. After all my hard work, going to counselling, managing my money and keeping a diary of my recovery, I felt like I was right back at square one’.

So what contributes to relapse, and what protects against it?

Some research into gambling relapse has focused on the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors (Oakes et al 2011a and 2011b). Each relapse episode is made up of several factors that either end in relapse (where ‘push’ overcomes ‘pull’) or continued abstinence (where ‘pull’ overcomes ‘push’).

Factors that ‘push’ a person towards relapse these include:

  1. Environmental gambling triggers
  2. The presence of an urge to gamble
  3. Unrealistic thoughts about gambling such as a belief in luck
  4. Negative emotions such as stress, escape, boredom, financial stress, and physical health.

This blog will focus on some of the Environmental Triggers that can lead to relapse.

 Many people are frustrated as they try to abstain from gambling due to the many opportunities in their environment to access gambling. For example, James described how he was overwhelmed by opportunities to gamble which are “everywhere” making relapse difficult for him to resist.

“If you want to go out for a meal, yes it’s everywhere, it’s impossible to not be near the pokies. I went there for a meal this was just an excuse to go to the pokies and gamble once again”

 Pam admitted when she could not sleep at night she would just get up and walk to a local hotel and gamble. She was upset as she often gambled without stopping to question herself about what she was doing despite trying hard to abstain.

 “It was easy to walk to a local hotel and that’s quite acceptable to go there in the early hours of the morning if you can’t sleep.  I tried so hard not to gamble but the hotels are everywhere and open all hours. The temptation to gamble became too hard to resist.

 Michael was able to abstain from gambling for many months after experiencing significant gambling problems. However, when he gained employment next to a hotel this became a significant problem for him. As work pressures in Michael’s new job began to increase he found it difficult to resist gambling. He was confronted by opportunities to gamble on a daily basis with the hotel next door.

 When I started my new job working next to the hotel it was easy to walk into the venue after work and convince myself I deserved to relax so I began to play the pokies again. When I started to have issues at work I found myself going to the hotel at lunch times to escape my work problems. Soon my gambling became out of control as I could not avoid the hotel next door.

If you’ve identified similar environmental factors contributing to your gambling, it may help you to talk to a trained counsellor to get some support.

You may like to call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.

We also have some Self Help Strategies to help you that are freely available on:


In future blogs we will focus on the other ‘push factors” and then look at the ‘pull’ factors (aka protective factors).

Oakes, J.E., Pols, R.G., Battersby, M.W., Lawn, S.J., Pulvirenti, M., & Smith, D.P., 2011. A focus group study of predictors of relapse in electronic gaming machine problem gambling, part 1:factors that ‘push’ towards relapse. Journal of Gambling Studies

Oakes, J.E., Pols, R.G., Battersby, M.W., Lawn, S.J., Pulvirenti, M., & Smith, D.P., 2011. A focus group study of predictors of relapse in electronic gaming machine problem gambling, part 2:factors that ‘pull’ the gambler away from relapse. Journal of Gambling Studies.

Relapse - Part 1

1 Aug 17
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This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.


One thing to always think about when addressing gambling problems, is relapse. Unfortunately it is a  common part of the change process and can seem to come up out of the blue. Here are some quotes from clients who were asked to reflect on the times they had relapsed:

I was going so well and then I found myself driving to a venue and going in. I told myself I would only gamble $50 because I deserved a treat, after all my hard work. I ended up emptying my bank account and leaving there 3 hours later in a state. Looking back there were lots of signs I was headed for a relapse – but I didn’t notice at the time.


After I had that fight with my partner, I knew I was going to gamble. I went straight to the pub and ordered a beer, then started to bet. I just didn’t care anymore.


I caught up with an old girlfriend and after lunch, she suggested that we put some money into the pokies. I didn’t want to be rude and say no, so I went with her and we spent $15 each. After she had left, I went back there and spent much more by myself.


Even when we have made changes to our behaviour and seen the progress ourselves, we can often slip back into old habits and ways of thinking. If you think about it, there are probably times that everyone has experienced a relapse of a kind. Think about a time you have started an exercise regime, and experienced great results and thought ‘I’m going to keep this up forever’. Then life gets busy, the routine gets disrupted, and we slip back into old habits. It takes a lot of effort to make change stick, particularly with something as addictive as gambling.

Some clients that we speak to will talk about making big changes in their lives when their gambling causes them to reach crisis point. They will put the money management into place, go to counselling, and set themselves goals. They see big improvements in their relationships, mental health and general wellbeing. Then, when everything has settled down again and the crisis has passed, they will relapse.

Why does this happen?

There are a number of explanations, but one is that that addictive part of our brains is really powerful. And once the reasons for stopping gambling are gone (and someone is feeling financially stable again), the reasons to gamble might become a bit louder. Just the same as the part of your brain that says ‘go on, have another chocolate biscuit, it won’t hurt’, is motivated by reward, so is the gambling part of your brain. Gambling is often enjoyable for people, so of course we will have a hard time saying goodbye to it forever. When things settle down and the stress caused by gambling diminishes, we can be quite vulnerable to relapse if we’re not careful.

Some people will have the need to test themselves, or believe that now the problem is managed, they can control their gambling. Unfortunately with gambling, the neural pathways are incredibly strong. People will talk about going back to a venue after 6 months away, and losing huge amounts of money in one go. They might lose even more than they had been used to losing because they had saved up money in the meantime, or hadn’t limited their access to it, believing they would be safe. Unfortunately those neural pathways are there and are re-activated by the environment, by the machines, even by the smells.

It might help to compare this to when you taste a certain food, or smell a perfume or something cooking. That sensation can trigger memories, emotions, things from the past that we associate with it. With the pokies, they are designed so that, when you hear the music, or see the symbols, your brain goes right back into ‘gambling’ mode. The reward centres of your brain are activated and it is very hard for you to walk away. The machines are designed to ‘hack’ your brain so that you’re stuck there. Over time the pathways get weaker, but they will always be there. With pokies it is much safer to stay away altogether, to avoid being ‘re-activated’.

In our next blog we will discuss some ways to avoid relapse and make changes stick for good.

Getting your relapse prevention plan in place of the puzzle, but it is an important factor. If you’ve experienced relapse before, or are concerned about relapsing in the future, it may help you to talk to a trained counsellor to get some support. Click on the link below to find out more:


There is also help available from an experienced gambling counsellor call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.

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