Dealing with gambling urges

Call Noel now on 07852407140 for help with gambling problems, whether you yourself are suffering or if you have a loved one caught up in the addiction.

How to deal with gambling urges now that you have stopped gambling

Once you have stopped gambling it is imperative that you have a relapse prevention strategy in place in order to sustain and support your recovery. Stopping is the easy part. Staying stopped is the hard bit.  Problem gamblers typically show common characteristics such as thriving on challenges and being attracted to hugely stimulating situations. Problem gamblers often tolerate boredom very poorly and if they encounter a task to be uninspiring they will avoid it or not complete it (Research by Peck, 1986). It is, therefore, critical to change your lifestyle in order to better deal with boredom.

Here are some pointers to sustain your relapse prevention strategy and to identify common triggers to gambling:


It is important to stay busy and to avoid being idle. Problem gamblers typically struggle with too much free time after stopping gambling.  This is even more difficult if you don’t have a job or college course to keep you busy.

Try to stay in the moment and not to think of the future. You are more likely to avoid anxiety if you are focused on your day ahead.  Thinking about future events may only induce fear and apprehension as you have no control about what might or what might not happen in the future.

Try to keep your focus on the day. There is nothing you can do about yesterday, so try to forget about previous gambling losses.  This can be emotionally painful but one sure way to keep bookmakers in profit is when gamblers start to chase their losses. When you chase past losses you lose any possible discipline you may have had whilst gambling.

If you feel like you want to gamble, and are struggling with the preoccupation to gamble, try to postpone the decision to the next day. Say to yourself that today you will not gamble, but who knows about tomorrow.The key is get to bed at night without gambling that day.  Upon awakening remind yourself that you don’t need to gamble for that day too. Getting into the habit of living one day at a time can be a useful way of coping with triggers to gamble.

Do something completely different. Your brain needs to be stimulated and needs new tasks to be completed in order to stay in a healthy functioning state.  Try to learn a new skill or a new language. Having new challenges will help you to keep the gambling urges at bay.

Often gamblers will refer to a hobby that they used to have but due to their gambling that particular hobby fell by the wayside. It would be a good idea to rekindle that hobby now so that your mind is concentrated on activities other than assessing odds and speculating on potential winnings.

Special events

Problem gamblers often refer to looming special events as areas of anxiety which might threaten a relapse. The type of event can, of course, be very personal. So, for sports gamblers, it could be the Cheltenham Festival or Royal Ascot or the Grand National. For others, it may be Wimbledon tennis, football finals or golf events.  These type of special events can often be associated with increased coverage in the media and increasingly bookmaker representatives will seek to increase the hype surrounding the events. The television advertising invariably portrays a message that it is insufficient to merely watch the event but in order to really enjoy the occasion it is necessary to have a wager on the outcome.

It is critical to be aware of your triggers to gambling.  So, when special events are approaching, it is important to be more mindful of your vulnerabilities.  This might mean increasing the number of 12 step meetings you attend, writing daily journals, staying close to fellow recovering ex gamblers, avoiding the temptation to read about the special events in the newspapers or to watch build-up programmes on the television, which only serve to increase the hype and weaken your resolve. Your relapse prevention strategy could also include asking a trusted partner or friend to manage your money supply for a time as this will help prevent acting on impulse. A difficulty to manage impulses as well as an inability to delay gratification has been cited as two major impulsivity-related symptoms of pathological gamblers (McCormick & Taber, 1988).


The ability to handle stress and to effectively deal with our emotions is critical in maintaining emotional regulation.  Factors such as stress may be more likely to contribute to gambling problems according to findings from Lightsey & Hulsey, 2002. Learning how to cope with stress is crucial to any successful relapse prevention strategy. To draw upon the neuroscience evidence and interpersonal neurobiology it is necessary to assess affect dysregulation. See Jon Daly’s very clear and articulate explanation of the science of addiction. Essentially, how we regulate our emotional wellbeing determines how well we moderate our addictive tendencies and stress is the barometer of our ability to manage our emotions.

In terms of comorbidities, according to Professor Jon Grant at the University of Chicago, female gamblers are more likely to have mood disorders, more likely than men to attempt suicide because of their gambling, more likely to have anxiety disorders and more likely to develop nicotine dependence. He also maintains that women have a lower sensation seeking constitution which may result from a less reactive dopaminergic system.

Worries about money

Gamblers often think they can ‘make it pay’. This desire can become stronger at a time of life transitions such as redundancy or the end of a college course.  The gambling can be seen as a way of life and like having a job.  However, the instinctual fear of not having sufficient funds will not be eradicated by pursuing gambling as an occupational activity.  You will only create further problems as you attempt to satisfy your instinctual desire for material security.

Take stock of what you have achieved

Try to be grateful for your ‘clean time’ and try not to sabotage your recovery by a spree of gambling.  Think of your gambling urges as your monkey on your shoulder.  Don’t let him take over. You owe that to yourself.

Remember the amount you have previously lost

It is not a good idea to dwell on the past but it is important to remind yourself how you got here in the first place. It is easy to forget about past gambling losses when you get the urge to gamble again.  Gamblers who relapse often report a euphoric feeling that this time it will be different. Remember that a win might only represent a portion of past losses so it is not really winning. If you are compulsive you cannot win!

Indeed gamblers often report that any winnings are just another way of staying gambling, and feeding the ‘buzz’, for longer.  The bookie will usually get the winnings back eventually.

Take note of your self sabotage triggers

Gamblers often say that big gambling sprees take place just before a special occasion such as a birthday, wedding anniversary, start of a holiday or an achievement award. The gambling might be a way of punishing yourself or seeking to ease the anxiety you are feeling.  Be especially vigilant during these times. Seeing a psychotherapist will offer you the opportunity to explore your life choices in a safe and confidential private setting as you bring greater awareness to your personal triggers to gamble.

Visualise the name of the betting shop or website changing to the slogan

If you find it difficult staying out of betting shops or away from betting websites it might be useful to make up a slogan in relation to the gambling operator and visualise the name of it changing to the slogan.

Here is an example:

Ladbrokes = lad is broke
William Hill = will be ill
Betfred = Bet and go into red
Coral = Cash or readies all lost
Paddy Power = end up owing Paddy
Betfair = bet unfair

Each day you avoid the temptation to gamble you will become stronger, more creative and more energetic.  Your life will take on a new meaning as you begin to take part in your life once again.

call meNoel Bell is a fully qualified psychotherapist based in Sydenham and at London Bridge and has extensive experience of working with addicted clients with over 20 years experience of the 12 Steps of Recovery. Contact him now by calling 07852 407140


See also

Gambling problem support
Support for family and friends