Managing Gambling Triggers and Urges

Some gamblers said that getting better at recognising triggers and opportunities to gamble was the most effective strategy they used to change their gambling.

There were two parts to the success of this strategy – getting better at recognising triggers and opportunities; and then making plans to avoid, reduce or respond differently to the triggers and opportunities. They said that this strategy worked well in combination with finding new ways to use their time. Once they were busy with other activities, some of the gambling triggers happened less. They also had an alternative activity when an urge to gamble emerged.

Learning about triggers and urges can help gamblers:

  • become aware when gambling happens

  • become aware when gambling is harmful

  • identify triggers that lead to gambling

  • monitor how thoughts, feelings, people and situations relate to gambling

  • become aware when urges arise

  • find new ways to avoid, reduce or respond differently to triggers and urges.

Monitoring your gambling

When you are thinking about change, it can be good to take a clear look at what is happening now as well as your future goals. Monitoring gambling can be a helpful way to gain insight about what is happening now.

A simple monitoring activity may be to record in a daily monitoring sheet , diary or the calendar of a phone each time you gamble and how much you spend. Review your calendar. Knowing how much money and time you are currently spending on gambling can help you to reflect on trends and patterns in your gambling.

You may notice gambling is more harmful at some times than others, e.g. it’s worse on pay day, when you are worried about bills and debts, or when there’s stress at home. You can use a gambling diary to reflect on your gambling and see if you can identify any triggers or high risk times for gambling. Using the diary may also help you to notice times when you are successful at countering urges – learning more about how this happens can really help you to make a good action plan to manage your gambling.

Try to complete the diary for at least a week – that gives you a chance to learn more about your gambling and also to see if you can identify any patterns. Knowing some of the situations when gambling tends to occur may help you to prepare for the difficult times and to plan new responses.

Coping strategies

Once you’re feeling clear about some of your gambling triggers, you may want to start thinking about how you might handle these in new ways. People who have successfully changed their gambling use a wide range of coping strategies and they use these in combination. People who have changed their gambling often change what they do, think and feel.

Changing all three - what you do, think and feel is a big task, don’t be discouraged if you can’t change all three – look at what combinations you can achieve and what else you may need to change to help you achieve your change goal.

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Try the six “D” APPROACH

DELAY – put gambling off for 5 mins, then 20 mins, then one hour, then another hour and so on. Urges rarely last long. They are like waves, they build to a peak but subside and fade. Each urge you beat is another step in reducing the intensity and number of future urges.

DEEP BREATHING – take three deep breaths and concentrate on how it feels as you breathe in and breathe out. Notice how you are feeling (sad, bored, lonely, frustrated)? Find and use healthy ways to process these feelings.

DISTRACT – think about something pleasant, create words from the letters on number plates, devise limericks about people you know.

DISCUSS YOUR URGE – telephone someone, visit a friend. Ring the Gambling Helpline 1800 858 858 who can refer you to your local Gambling Help service.

DO SOMETHING ELSE – go to the movies, go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting, write in your journal, take a relaxing bath, visit the library, do some exercise, walk in the park and smell the flowers, swim, get a massage, write a letter, do some cooking, plant a tree.

DETOUR – around the gaming venue, discover alternative routes. Keep driving past. Instead of turning left into the venue, turn right and keep going.

  • Accept that urges are a part of stopping gambling and that they will pass with time. Urges are like a cat – the more you feed it, the more it comes back. If you don’t feed them the urges will eventually stop. You can choose how you will respond.

  • Revisit your reasons for ceasing gambling. What are some of the goals you want to achieve after quitting gambling? Recall a moment of clarity when it was very clear that a change was needed. Remember all the motivating factors and benefits for being in control of gambling. This can assist you with the arguments ‘in your head’.

  • Remind yourself of at least 3 negative consequences if you act upon your urges and engage in gambling. How did you used to feel after you gambled? Remember the predicament you were in when you gambled. Remember the amount of money you lost when gambling and how it took away time from other important areas of your life. What effects will it have on others?

  • Don’t fight the thoughts of gambling, let the thoughts “surf” your mind in the same way that surfers handle strong waves – not by fighting or resisting but by riding them out. Remember that urges, like waves, come and go and they can change in intensity and frequency. We do not have to act on urges.

  • Reward your efforts to stop gambling. It is helpful to reward yourself for the steps you are making in your efforts to stop gambling. At first you might reward yourself every time you resist an urge and then lengthen the time between rewards to weekly or monthly.

  • Identify when you are likely to have an urge to gamble and plan ahead for how you will deal with each situation or state when it arises. These are sometimes referred to as triggers and will consist of particular cues related to gambling, as well as places, times and emotional states. These may include reading the form guide in the paper, going out with certain friends who like to gamble, feelings of stress, boredom or loneliness, being on the way home after work on a Friday night, payday etc. Be aware of your triggers, have a plan to avoid these triggers or set up a plan to change your response to them.

  • Develop powerful coping statements that counter the urge-producing thoughts. For example, if you are thinking “This time my luck has changed”, you might want to counter this with “My luck has changed because I no longer gamble”.

Contact us

If gambling is impacting your life or a loved one's life, it's okay to reach out for help. It’s free and confidential.

Call the 24/7 Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858

Face-to-face counselling locations