Gambling Urges and Cravings (3) What Can Help With Them?

In general terms, it is good for a recovering gambler to be as busy and occupied as is reasonably possible. This is not necessarily a lifetime strategy but certainly a most important contributor to overcoming the addiction in earlier days of abstinence. To plan activities, tasks, work and pastimes as regularly as possible is the gambler’s friend and this concentration on activity can assist in preventing gambling urges and cravings forming. What can the gambler do however, to deal with them if and when they arrive?

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(Image: Rasto Belan)

It has been an observation of mine from clients that the beginnings of gambling thoughts and urges are most often of a positive nature. Thoughts about opportunity and winning, coupled with additional thoughts about ways of spending those winnings characterise their first notion when the subject of gambling first pops into the head. One might say that without this feeling of positivity, the urges to gamble might be quite ineffectual and short-lived, for obvious reasons. These thoughts contain little balance or cost benefit thinking so an initial task might, after recognising and acknowledging the thoughts, be to challenge them. A train of thought might develop thus: ‘I have time and opportunity to gamble, money to do it with and that football match/horse race has very attractive odds. I could easily make money on them. With those winnings I could buy this or I could pay off that…’. At this point a challenge is required, ‘But what happened the last time I gambled? I lost money I couldn’t afford to lose and left myself short of funds all month. I felt depressed and anxious. I couldn’t talk to my partner and it affected our relationship’. Just an example and like many strategies practicing it makes it more effective.

Another main area I like to concentrate on is that of mental exercises to distract the gambler from gambling thoughts. Again, the initial acknowledgement and recognition that one is having those gambling thoughts is necessary and we can then turn to the distraction techniques. The central principle is that if there are thoughts about gambling in someone’s head then the most beneficial thing that can happen is simply to remove those thoughts as we cannot concentrate on two trains of thought simultaneously. Counting exercises are popular and effective, often the more menial the better. In my office I venture the idea of counting the many leaves on a pot plant, or looking through the window at a nearby building and counting windows, roof tiles or any other feature. It sounds unlikely but it is effective. Concentrate hard enough on the exercise and at this point those gambling thoughts will be extinct, they will not exist We have already established that for most gamblers, the urges are not long-lasting – possibly minutes typically – and so (thankfully!) these exercises need not last long at all until the gambling urges pass. A footnote might be that occasionally, gamblers believe their gambling urges last much longer that the minutes we talk of here. I would posit that much more likely is the fact that for those people, shorter urges are returning over and over again during the day – much like the waves described earlier

Of course, there are many other distraction strategies to choose from but an important factor in whatever one chooses is to have the strategy pre-planned and ready for any urges and cravings coming along. Know these environment, recognise where and when they most often happen and plan accordingly. I also like the idea of simply talking to others, be that face-to-face or over the telephone as conversations can be quickly engrossing. Other strategies people have mentioned to me include, taking a cycle ride, walking the dog, playing with their children and generally participating in hobbies and pastimes. I quite like to hear of physical activities that are in complete contrast to the gambling activity. All of these can assist a gambler in dealing effectively with gambling urges and cravings.

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Gambling Urges and Cravings (1) What are they?

Often, people speak to me in my capacity as a Gambling Practitioner about the subject of the strong urges and cravings they are experiencing whilst dealing with their addiction. Of course, such feelings can leave a person in recovery feeling vulnerable, not to say, anxious. It can also rob them of their confidence in their ability to overcome a gambling addiction and crucially become a part of the process of lapsing or relapsing. To that end, some psychoeducation around the subject of urges and cravings can be hugely beneficial.

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It’s important to understand that urges and cravings are actually a natural part of modifying (either abstaining from or decreasing) the gambling activity. Naturally, the more a person understands them, the more this will assist in overcoming them.
I often ask if clients understand the underlying cause of their urges to gamble but find that very few have an accurate conception of why this is. More often they will refer to certain personal triggers which whilst certainly a contributor are an accessory or facilitator to the underlying reason. Simply speaking, urges to gamble are caused by gambling itself. They are generally the result of reinforced gambling activity over a period of time and can endure for a further period after becoming abstinent from the gambling activity. It follows then that if a person has a history of heavy gambling in particular, it’s quite likely they may still experience strong urges after stopping.

What we see from the above is that people fall into a vicious cycle of gambling activity creating urges – urges creating gambling behaviour – gambling creating further urges and so on. It’s for another conversation but here is where an initial intervention and plan is put in place to stop gambling by controlling funds, access i.e. phone/betting shop and/or time and opportunity.

A useful way in which to conceptualise how a gambling urge works is to think of it being similar to a wave on a beach. The latter will begin as a mere ripple initially before building up to its strongest point prior to breaking and flowing away when it hits the beach. The comparison is of a gambling urge beginning as a small thought in someone’s mind, growing and overtaking other thoughts before finally ‘crashing’. The latter is a direct comparison with a wave breaking, where the urge reaches its culmination – either by gambling or by avoiding it.

We find that urges can last for seconds, minutes or for more protracted periods. This can depend on what you are doing (are you occupied with other thoughts especially). Keeping oneself occupied and busy really is the recovering gambler’s friend – preferably occupied with things you enjoy doing but not necessarily. Clearly, the thoughts about gambling then have less opportunity to occupy your thoughts and create those urges. Duration of thoughts can also be influenced by how a person is feeling and this comes into the area of triggers for the activity.

Gambling ‘Obscene’ Profits

A somewhat heartfelt posting this evening. I was alerted to a news story today regarding the owner of the Bet365 betting company declaring a huge personal income from profits of the company.

Bet365 founder paid herself an ‘obscene’ £265m in 2017

I’m not particularly here to change anyone’s opinion but here’s a little insight into the other side of things which may or may not be of interest. I am employed by a registered charity as a psychologist, counselling gamblers and their families.

Each and every working day I see broken lives coming through my office, gamblers and their loved ones too who are innocently experiencing the fallout of a family member’s addiction, children very much included. Outcomes for many include bankruptcy, loss of relationships and children, homelessness and prison sentences. Suicide is the ultimate tragedy occasionally and I have to say I have counselled many individuals who have attempted to take their own lives. General symptoms can include:

Criminal Activity
Feeling Isolated
Mental Health Problems
Domestic Abuse
Financial Difficulties
School/University Difficulties
Drug Misuse
General Health
Suicidal
Alcohol Misuse
Family/Relationship Difficulties
Housing Problems
Work Difficulties
Anxiety/Stress

These symptoms are not rare but everyday.

Gambling companies not only feed addiction but actively create and enhance them, often surreptitiously in my view, by carefully considered psychological strategies that induce people to gamble and relapse. It is not enough to only say that people are responsible for themselves (which they are). People are often only as ‘good’ as they can be in difficult circumstances. We may consider here unconditional positive regard for an individual. We have possibly all found ourselves doing inadvisable things in our lives and so judging on that is not appropriate in my view. Perhaps one of the greatest ironies is that a significant section of gamblers bet simply because they don’t have enough money to live on – which of course never works and there follows an inevitable slide deeper into addiction and its negative effects on their lives. In what must now be approaching thousands of clients I’ve treated I have never witnessed one single client bet their way out of trouble permanently. Not one.

What help is available? Well the casinos in the city I live in make huge reported profits and fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops contribute approximately fifty per cent of the gambling industry’s profits. Ever wondered incidentally why there are just so many betting shops on the high street these days? It’s because the law regulates each shop to a maximum of four FOBT machines only. They therefore open shop after shop with four more machines in each. In the meantime and by comparison, currently, I am the only individual in the East Midlands of England and parts of Lincolnshire (approx. four million people catchment area) offering free funded help. You may imagine that many gamblers, deep into their addiction become unable to afford other professional treatment at around fifty pounds per hour. A classic catch-22 situation.

You can possibly understand what my attitude to the Bet365 owner making such huge profits might be – at the expense of much human suffering and even deaths – most often not just by the gamblers themselves but their innocent families.

Should anybody require free help and support they can contact Gamcare’s Helpine or Netline which can be found at: www.gamcare.org.uk

For those finding things getting out of control with their online gambling I can thoroughly recommend self-exclusion via a scheme that began in May 2018 called Gamstop. www.gamstop.co.uk

The scheme is completely free and takes around ten minutes to register to it online from their website.

As we say, if you should have a problem ‘the worst thing to do is nothing’.

Mental Health And Gambling Addiction

WORLD MENTAL HEALTH DAY 2018

COUNSELLING FOR GAMBLING ADDICTION – FREE CONFIDENTIAL SERVICE

On this significant day I would like to speak about an arguably epidemic situation with problem gambling in current times in regard to its effect on mental health. Despite a rapidly worsening situation, there is comparatively little help for this problem in the UK. Our media and particularly sports are swamped with gambling advertising among such platitudes as ‘When the fun stops, stop’, insincerely backed by the gambling industry who maintain that they act responsibly in the face of much evidence to the contrary.

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In my work, I see much tragedy daily, broken homes, splintered families and wrecked relationships, bankruptcies, isolation, high anxiety and depression and mental and physical illness. I also witness prison sentences and even suicide and it’s ideation, often attempted and occasionally unfortunately, completed.

For a little time, there has been no facility in my part of the country, Nottingham, or indeed the whole of the East Midlands of England to offer free assistance for gambling issues until recently this year. Currently, as a lone worker, I offer some of the only free regular counselling support to a population of approximately four million people.

I am employed in Nottingham City Centre by the registered charity, Aquarius Action Projects whose head office is based in Birmingham. The counselling service is a charitable one and completely free of charge and confidential. Already a busy service in Nottingham, the operation is hopeful of expansion in order to further look after our local communities and others more widely over the East Midlands and into Lincolnshire too.

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Counselling can presently be offered in person in Nottingham city centre or by free telephone calls. Based on psychological principles and behavioural change, it’s a friendly and accessible service and one I’d particularly like people to be aware of.

The help is funded by the national charity, Gamcare whose website and free help line I link below. Gamcare have a partner agency network throughout England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. The help and support is out there and readily accessible.

If you’d like help with your problem, please call Aquarius on 0300 456 4293 or email on gambling@aquarius.org.uk
Alternatively, you can contact Gamcare, our funder’s Helpline or Chatline on the link below to gain immediate help and/or be referred across the UK:

www.gamcare.org.uk

http://aquarius.org.uk/gambling

‘The phrase ‘raising awareness’ sometimes feels a little overused in these days but I’d be very happy if my friends – and friends I’ve yet to meet – would be willing to share this information and help others,

Thank you.

Stuart