One of the commonest questions those recovering from gambling problems ask is what next? What is the next step after kicking this habit? How do I reintegrate myself into the society? Will little things like watching sports trigger my addiction? Will I slump into depression after kicking the habit? How can I avoid gambling when it happens everywhere around me?
There are a thousand and one articles on how to know you have a gambling problem and how to seek help, but not enough information on what to do after you have quit or how to walk the thorny road to recovery. Because of this, most people have the erroneous belief that once they stop gambling, everything would become great. Unfortunately, that is seldom true. Quitting gambling does not mean your life would automatically become perfect. It does not matter if you are one week or one year into your recovery, the pile of debts waiting for you as an erstwhile gambler could make you fall off the wagon in a bid to recoup your losses and settle your debt. It could also lead you to despair and depression. There are reports of former gamblers who became so depressed they resorted to self-harm even though they had fully recovered while some turned to drugs and alcohol as a quick fix.
This raises the pertinent question; “what next?”
Deciding to stop gambling is the easy part. The hard part is following through and making new, life-altering changes aimed at ensuring you never have to gamble again. This can be done by identifying your trigger. If you plan on never gambling again, you have to know what made you pick up the habit in the first place. Did you start gambling because of stress, peer pressure, financial problems or to celebrate a big win? The answers differ for every problem gambler. You have to identify your trigger and avoid it.
You will have to find a new method for managing your stress, cut off friends who gamble, find alternative means of handling your financial burden and celebrate in a more healthy way.
Other necessary changes you ought to make include:
- Closing all your online betting accounts.
- Avoiding betting games.
- Staying away from tempting establishments.
- Telling former betting establishments you frequent that you have a gambling problem and asking them to restrict you from entering or participating.
- Removing gambling apps from your computer and smartphone.
- Blocking gambling sites from your computer and smartphone.
Surround yourself with supportive people
It is important that you surround yourself with people who are supportive of your recovery. They could be family members, friends, counsellors and those in recovery with you. Do well to disassociate yourself from people who enabled and empowered your gambling problem. This could be betting centres, racecourse, or gambling friends.
Taking financial responsibility
This involves trying to sort out the debts you accrued during your gambling days. You have to work harder and make some sacrifices in order to clear any outstanding debts. As you start on a clean slate psychologically and emotionally, it is important you do so financially too. Working to clear your debts will instil discipline in you, which is a much-needed character for someone in recovery.
Also, because of the likelihood that you may gamble, it is advisable to have someone else be in charge of your money and make payments for you. You could also get rid of your credit card and carry enough cash just for you to get by, and nothing extra.
Find a Gamblers’ Anonymous meeting near you and attend religiously. Hearing other people in different stages of their recovery talk about their triumphs and pitfalls will help grant you some perspective.
Limit your access to gambling
This requires strong commitment and dedication to abstinence. Due to your craving and urges, your resolve may weaken and you may be on your way to relapse. Some of these steps helped compulsive gamblers limit their access to gambling.
- No internet access: if you are addicted to online gambling, cutting off your access to the internet will help curb it.
- Get off marketing lists of gambling houses: get your name removed from casino promotion lists, newsletter, and email reminder. Change location: although this option should be considered last, it is advisable in extreme cases. You could move to a farther place where there is no gambling centre close by.
Immerse yourself in new activities
Boredom and isolation contribute to relapse in a lot of recovering gambling addicts. You have to find alternatives to gambling by adopting healthier hobbies that are not related to gambling in any way. They could be exercising, meditating, hiking, writing a journal, yoga, bowling, etc.
To make it more fun and interactive, you could find others with similar interests and make it a group activity. You could also consider volunteering to talk to people who are trying to kick their own gambling problem. Mentoring them could give you a sense of responsibility and purpose.
Many recovering gamblers find it helpful getting professional counselling to prevent relapse. Regular counselling helps you develop coping methods which help you move forward in your recovery. When it comes to gambling, it is not always about the money. Studies have shown that wins and near-misses activate the reward centre of the brain, increasing the need to play again. It is much like the euphoria experienced by drug users. Even when you miss, the dopamine release motivates you to try better next time.
This is why you need counselling in order to learn how to forgive yourself, manage your anger, avoid depression, take prescribed medication, and set goals for yourself.
Making a full recovery from gambling addiction requires time, dedication, commitment and focus. Despite all these, you may slip up along the way and fail to resist gambling. If this happens, it is important that you do not be too hard on yourself. Beating a gambling addiction is a tough process and there might be occasional slip-ups. However, it is not an excuse to always give in to your urges and gamble any time you feel like it. Learn from those mistakes and continue working towards your recovery.