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:
- Environmental gambling triggers
- The presence of an urge to gamble
- Unrealistic thoughts about gambling such as a belief in luck
- 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 Gambling Help.