Your Relationship with Gambling – when did it change for you?

17 Apr 18
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Woman at a crossroads

“At the start my relationship with gambling was good!” We hear this from lots of people who are trying to change their gambling behaviour, but when did this relationship change?

For some people gambling can be an enjoyable pastime, but for others gambling is no longer fun as they have lost control. It is not unusual to be unaware of when this change happened as they become immersed in it.

Often we can only see when the change happened when we look back with new insight, however there are some common themes we see from people who are changing.

Stories from people who have changed:

Samantha initially enjoyed gambling on the Pokies with her partner:

‘I started gambling at the pokies after having dinner at the club with my partner. We initially enjoyed putting our change in the pokies and having some fun together.

After a while gambling became a routine and we would just sit on our own and press the buttons and the excitement seemed to have gone except for the few wins now and then.

When we broke up, I would go there to gamble during the week on my own. It was somewhere to go rather than siting home alone.  I started spending more and more time and money there, and one day I realised that I had been there every night for a week – that is when I realised I had a problem.’

Alex initially enjoyed a punt at the TAB but after a while, he noticed his gambling was becoming a problem:

‘I used to really look forward to going to the TAB with my friends when we were at the pub. Work became more stressful and I started going by myself, sometimes at lunchtime.

After a while I was going most days, and spending more than I could afford – after a while, it became about winning the money back, rather than having a wind down or a laugh.’

Both Samantha and Alex experienced a change in their relationship with gambling, taking it from a pastime to a routine part of their lives and eventually becoming a habit.

This experience is not unusual as we often hear from people that have become absorbed in their gambling.

Many people get to a stage where they are chasing the winning feeling or trying to make up their losses. They haven’t noticed that they have lost the enjoyment and it has become a problem.

If you think your relationship with gambling is changing it may to be time to take a break!

Some signs to look for:

  • Is gambling taking priority over other things in your life?
  • Do you spend more time gambling than you mean to?
  • Are people commenting on how much you are gambling?
  • Are you missing other things to gamble instead?
  • Have you seen an impact on your finances?
  • Do you not buy things you need so that you can gamble instead?

If you say yes to any of these questions it might be time to evaluate where you are at and have a chat with someone.

It can be difficult finding out you have may have a problem with gambling and it’s natural that at first you may feel disappointed or even upset.  

But by reading this BLOG you have taken a positive step towards changing your gambling behaviour. The good news is that lots of people have quit gambling and have a better life.

Developing a change plan

Having a plan in place can make it easier to get yourself started.

Step 1 - List all the positives of quitting your gambling so you can remind yourself if you need a boost.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • More money in your bank
  • More time for your self and with your family
  • Feelings of relief as you take charge of your life
  • Improved health and wellbeing as you are not sitting for long periods gambling

Step 2 - Think about strategies you can try to change your gambling.

  • Make plans for times when you would go gambling.
  • Limit your money; only take enough cash with you to get you through the day.
  • Tell someone you trust about the change you are making, who can help support you.
  • Find strategies that help you with stress or boredom so that you don’t find yourself gambling.
  • Create a diary for the week ahead so that you have a plan and can log where you are at.

Step 3 - find some different activities you enjoy, that can you give you purpose.  

For example:

  • Try a new sport or craft activity.
  • Catching up with friends.
  • Walking on the beach or along a river.
  • Cooking nice meals.
  • Tackling the house work it can give you a great sense of satisfaction.

Why not allocate some enjoyable activities in your diary so you have a plan of action.

For other ideas check out:  

https://www.gamblinghelponline.org.au/making-a-change/change-strategies

Support is important

Support is very important when starting to make a change, why not reach out to someone you trust or a professional trained to help people trying to change their gambling.

Remember lapses are normal and can happen at any time when you are trying to stop gambling. Its normal to have a few setbacks as you make the commitment to change your behaviour. Use these setbacks as learning to help make you stronger for the next time you are feeling vulnerable to gamble.

If you would like to speak to a gambling counsellor about this, or if you have any questions about accessing free, face to face counselling have a chat with one of our counsellors.

Reconnecting is an important step towards change - 8 strategies to help get you started

27 Mar 18
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We often hear from people accessing our services, that as gambling affected their life more and more, their relationships suffered.

Two people having a drink

Reconnecting with people in your life is important - research shows individuals with supportive and rewarding relationships have better mental health.  Therefore, as you work towards changing your gambling it is also important to reconnect and rebuild the relationships you may have neglected.

A strong relationship means you are connected with someone and can share your emotions, triumphs, setbacks and dreams. Strong connections in your life can help you feel more fulfilled and happy, making it easier to stay strong while changing your gambling.

So why delay? Reach out and reconnect with someone today.

Here are some strategies to help you get started -

  1. Reach out casually and say hello to the person you want to reconnect with.
  2. If you are concerned about seeing them in person call or email someone to begin the conversation
  3. Once you commit to getting together act immediately and make plans.
  4. Be specific about what days you can meet and settle on the details.
  5. Meet for a walk, coffee or do something that you both enjoy.
  6. Follow through on plans, you may feel nervous but this is normal.
  7. Be honest and reliable. For example, if you’re running late make an effort to call them and let them know.
  8. If someone invites you out, go!

If you don’t get the response you hope for

Sometimes people don’t get the response they hope for. While this isn’t by any means a certainty, if it happens, take it as a learning opportunity. It may take some time to reconnect with some people, that’s ok just gradually try to repair your bond.

If you find they aren’t receptive over time, you may want to concentrate on reconciling with someone else instead, and perhaps they will contact to in the future.

It can also be a good time to start new relationships while you are on this journey. Where your friendships have been heavily linked to gambling it may be the right time to try and forge new relationships. Starting a new hobby can be particularly helpful for finding like-minded people.

When you finally meet

  1. If you believe you have something to apologise for, do so as soon as you can for example. "Hey, Michael, I'm really sorry about not being in touch for so long.”
  2. One of the best ways to show you respect someone is listening intently when they speak to you. When talking to the person be fully present and show the other person how important they are to you.  
  3. Recall positive memories.
  4. If you feel comfortable share with them what you are working to achieve, people with strong bonds who have supportive people in their lives can find it easier to stay on track.
  5. Give them the opportunity to share what is happening with their lives. Conversations can’t just be one way and while your journey can feel very central to everything at the moment relationships thrive when people support each other.

Accepting support when needed, and being willing and able to provide support in return, helps develop caring relationships that enable people to flourish. So make time for people in your life, especially the ones that you love.

Be reassured that it’s normal when you begin to reconnect with people in your life that not everything can be resolved right there and then. Relationships can be strengthened when you are seen to be taking positive action such as seeking support but this can take time.

Need a hand getting started? Have a chat with one of our professional and confidential counsellors, you can get started anytime.

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.

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.

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.

brain

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:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/downloads-and-orders/?need-help

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.

hiking

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:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/downloads-and-orders/?need-help

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.

Relapse

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.

-Eileen

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.

-Daniel

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.

-Sarah

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:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/take-action/search-results

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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