Learn to Identify Triggers

When relapse occurs, it’s due to some type of trigger or stimuli that you react to. These stimuli may be places where you always went to gamble, or people you associated with during gambling. It could be the emotional state of mind you were in or the thoughts you had at the time that triggers your repetition of ritualistic gambling behavior patterns. You need to identify these relapse triggers and the accompanying intense emotions they create before you can do anything about them.

Accept that Triggers Will Always Occur

It’s important to recognize and accept that relapse triggers will never completely disappear. There’s nothing you can possibly do to prevent every possible situation, thought, emotion or person that triggers your urge to gamble again. Just recognizing and accepting this fact is empowering. It gives you the power to move forward to the next step in your recovery. Yes, despite the fact that you relapsed, you are still in recovery. You will always be in recovery. And you will get stronger every day.

What to Do Instead of Fighting Triggers

Gamblers in recovery spend an inordinate amount of time fighting relapse triggers. This is counter-productive to their recovery. When you work so hard against something occurring, what happens? Your mind and body are in a constant state of alert, the “fight-or-flight” reaction. Sooner or later, this takes a tremendous toll in your emotional health and physical well-being. Sooner or later, without the proper tools, tactics and coping mechanisms, you’re bound to relapse again. Instead of fighting these triggers, recognize them for what they really are – an opportunity to create new perceptions and look on them as opportunities for your personal growth.

Opportunities for personal growth development include learning the skills to manage your life, gaining confidence in your ability to manage your life, and creating values that you choose to live by.

Develop Awareness

What will help, and help immensely, is to develop an emotional awareness, responsible decision-making skills, moderate your perceptions and have a clear sense of what is of personal value to you. Part of this awareness, according to gambling addiction treatment experts, is the knowledge that triggers are really an internal response and not external stimuli. Sure, you see a person or a place which you associate with gambling, but that’s just it. It isn’t the person or place, but the feelings the stimuli generate within you that cause the potential for relapse.

Early Stages of Recovery

Gambling recovery approaches recommend various methods and steps to follow. Most begin with simple recognition and move forward from there.

  • Recognize and Accept Your Past – You are here now, and you did some pretty bad things or engaged in some self-destructive behavior in the past. Let go of the guilt and shame you feel or felt over your past so that you can take the necessary steps to progress in your recovery. This helps you to develop self awareness and new personal values.
  • Taking Responsibility and Making Amends – Take responsibility for your past actions, however difficult or painful that may be. This means that you acknowledge how much you have hurt others by your gambling actions, possibly sabotaging your personal relationships and causing inordinate harm to others. You have to commit yourself to making the tough changes that you’ll need to in order to remain in recovery. Once you take responsibility, you have to make amends for your actions. This involves making a list of all those whom you have hurt – and it may go back decades. Don’t think of the amends list as a one-time task. It will be an ongoing responsibility. In order to be effective, you need to take the appropriate time to fully express yourself to that person. Making amends is not about you, it’s about repairing the damage that you have done to others.
  • Respect Others When Making Amends – Although you may have your list, you need to consider what and how to make amends and to whom. Start with those you have hurt the most. But before you rush out to say you’re sorry, consider whether or not contact with that individual or individuals will cause more harm than good. In some cases, they are better left alone. Respect the personal circumstances of others and only approach them to make amends if to do so will benefit them – not you.
  • Be Sincere When Making Amends – This is crucial. You can’t hope to move forward in your recovery unless and until you are sincere in making amends to those whom you’ve hurt. Of course, you can’t control how your attempt to make amends will be received by others. You can, however, control your intentions in making amends. Don’t think that you can swoop in and fix what you have done. Just be sincere in offering to help repair the relationship. If your attempts are rejected, it’s time to accept that fact and move on in your recovery.
  • Accept Who You Are Now – Early in recovery, it’s tough to see the positives, especially after many years of gambling addiction or some very self-destructive behavior and consequences for that behavior. Your inclination is to downplay any forward momentum you have achieved thus far in your recovery. And relapse looks to many recovering gambling addicts like a failure. It shouldn’t be. Early recovery is all about building a foundation for the rest of your life. It doesn’t happen overnight, and there will be stumbling blocks. Accept it and move forward.
  • Create a Blueprint, a Vision for your Future – Each recovering gambling addict needs a goal, a plan for the future. It doesn’t have to be set in stone, however, as plans and situations change over time. New opportunities will present themselves, ones that you should allow yourself to take advantage of. When things get tough, you feel depressed or that you haven’t accomplished as much as you’d like, return to this goal, this blueprint or plan for your future. It will remind you that you have objectives to strive for and will help you regain your self-confidence and stability.
  • Learn How to Make Healthy Decisions – Your decision-making skills are something that you will need to work on. In the past, you’ve made some very poor decisions based on self-interest and selfishness, giving into cravings and hurting others – and yourself. Those were compulsive decisions that were based purely on emotion. In contrast, healthy decisions require good personal values. In order to develop your healthy decision-making skills, you need to work on creating strong personal values. Learn to think ahead to the long-term consequences of your actions – what will happen if you do or don’t do a particular action – before you engage in that behavior. Thinking of your actions in relation to your personal values will help you avoid indulging in instant gratification responses that got you into trouble with gambling in the past.
  • Learn to Identify Options – This takes some time to do, but it’s critically important in your recovery. You need to be able to identify available options. Things aren’t just black and white. You don’t have to succumb to triggers just because they occur. How this works is as follows:
    • Identify options
    • Filter them through your personal values that you’ve created
    • Think about the consequences of doing or not doing the option
    • Decide what you’re going to do
    • Post-action, go over the wisdom of your choice – and learn from it
  • Recognize That Rebuilding Trust Takes Time – Those closest to you have probably been hurt the most by your gambling addiction. Your relationship with your spouse or significant other, children, family members and friends may have been damaged almost beyond repair. In the event that a continuing relationship is desired, the all-important matter of trust is an area that will take many months to rebuild. There’s only one way to do this. You have to show by your actions that you are worthy of trust. You need to stick to your new beliefs, your plan of action. Do what you say and say what you mean. Consistencies of your actions will gradually, and eventually, help you to rebuild the trust you need in your relationships. And, you need trust in order to continue in your recovery. Above all, you need to learn to trust yourself. This may be excruciatingly difficult for you to do at first, since you haven’t had much luck in the past being true to yourself. But it’s time to start now. Take it day by day, and step by step.
  • Keep Life in Balance – When things get all out of kilter, it’s easy to allow the stress to take over and give into the urge to gamble. An antidote to this is to create balance in your life. Have a healthy mix of work and leisure time. Make plans with the family and friends. Do things for others without expectation of anything in return. Make a daily schedule of your activities, if that will help. Yes, you can schedule in free time – time to take a walk, enjoy a hobby, go to a movie or out to dinner with your spouse/significant other or close friend. Just be sure your choices are responsible ones and not those that will lead to negative consequences. As for health, get regular exercise. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain foods. Drink lots of water. Stay away from too much caffeine, and avoid liquor and nicotine since they can also make you tense.
  • Handle Things as They Come – Don’t anticipate problems. Handle day-to-day situations as they come. Keep a positive outlook and don’t let pressure to achieve certain results push you into actions that are counter-productive to your overall plan.
  • Believe in Yourself – You’ve come a long way since first entering treatment and, now, in recovery. You need to believe in yourself and your ability to create and live the life you desire. With a solid plan, development of new perceptions, better decision-making and rebuilding trust in your relationships, you have every right and possibility to make your dreams a reality.
  • Talk with Counselor, Family and Friends – Whenever you feel you’re at a crossroads or need help, talk with your counselor, therapist, family and/or friends. Attend a 12-step meeting to get reinforcement and support from others who have been in the same situation.

Remember, the first 90 days of recovery, according to gambling addiction treatment experts, is when 2/3 of relapses occur. After that time, the newly-accumulated skills and coping mechanisms you’ve developed, and your new quality of life in recovery will help solidify your ability and confidence.

So, after relapse, now you have the opportunity to take what’s happened, learn from it, and move forward. Believe you can do it, because you can.


Choose a better life. Choose recovery.