How can I break my gambling habit?

Gambling help organisation Problem Gambling Victoria gives some helpful strategies on breaking a gambling habit that has become a problem.

Practical tips for breaking your gambling habit

  • Get someone to help you
  • Talk about lying
  • Control your cash
  • Fill the gap
  • Relax and look after yourself
  • Busts and setbacks
  • Friends can help
  • Become a good problem solver

Get someone to help you
Don’t be put off by this. You can do it on your own but a support person makes it easier, especially if you’ve got serious problems caused by gambling. This person might be a spouse, parent, friend or counselor.

Talk about lying
Many problem gamblers end up hiding their gambling from people around them. This is understandable as it is hard to explain to a partner, family member or friend some of the things that problem gamblers do to keep their gambling going, such as borrowing money from finance companies or taking cash from a child’s money box.
When people lie about gambling and debts, they may sometimes try to gamble their way out of debt so they won’t have to ‘come clean’. This usually leads them further in to debt. Coming clean about gambling with a trusted person can relieve pressure and provide the space to prepare a more thoughtful plan for recovery.

Lying is a hard habit to break. If it happens with your support person, it stops them being able to help you because they won’t trust what you say. You and your helper need to talk about this and plan out how to cope.

Control your cash
About one in five problem gamblers can give it up fairly easily. Most find that for quite a time they can’t stop if they have cash in their pocket and the club, TAB or casino is open. Many who stop gambling take a lot of trouble to get their cash flow under control.

  • Don’t keep large sums of cash kept in the house
  • Carry only enough cash for the day’s expenses
  • Have wages paid direct to savings or bank account
  • Have wages collected by spouse
  • Ensure all accounts need two signatures to take out cash
  • Pay bills by automatic transfer, cheque or credit card
  • Tell family and friends what you’re doing
  • Ensure they have been told not to lend you money
  • All cash flow must be ‘visible’ on account print-outs
  • Make new plans to control cash flow when there is a change, such as a holiday or a new job
  • Use teller machines to provide limited amounts of cash per week
  • Avoid jobs handling cash
  • Ensure EFTPOS cards have no pin numbers, so they can’t be used at a gaming venue

Fill the gap
Problem gamblers may spend 10-20 hours or more a week gambling. They also spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about their gambling. When you give up gambling you need to fill the gap it leaves. There are lots of ways to do this:

  • Plan ahead
  • Get to know family and friends if you have neglected them while gambling
  • Take another part-time job
  • If you are a lunch-time gambler, go somewhere different with workmates, arrange to meet someone, take a sandwich and read a book, go for a walk or a jog
  • Take up a hobby or a sport
  • Set short- and long-term goals
    Look at other things you can do to ‘treat’ yourself
  • Make your home an interesting place to be in, with interesting things to do
  • Start to do the things you may have stopped when you started to gamble too much

Relax and look after yourself
Giving up when you’ve spent hours each week gambling can make you feel tense and irritable. This can feel even worse when you still go into the places where you gambled, like to the club if you played the pokies, or pass a TAB or the casino on your way to work.
Learning how to relax, getting plenty of rest and eating properly can help you stick to your goal of reducing or giving up gambling. You can try:

  • Muscular relaxation training
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Meditation

A counselor may be able to help you with your own strategies.

Busts and setbacks
Problem gamblers can kick the habit. However, you must be fair to yourself. Problem gambling is like an addiction. It is really hard to stop or keep it under control. You can often predict when problem gambling will reappear. You are more likely to lose control when you have bad times in other parts of your life that make you feel sad, anxious, angry or depressed. When you feel this way, it’s challenging to stick to your plans, as you may feel an urge to borrow some money and go back to the old habit.

When you feel like you might gamble again, or if you do gamble again, there are five things you can do:

  1. Call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858. There’s always someone there to talk through the issue.
  2. Talk to your helper or write your feelings and actions in your gambling diary. If you gambled, look at what happened and see if you can spot ways of stopping it next time. Look for the good bits too. Did cash limits help? Did you find it easier to talk about it instead of lying about it? These are big steps forward and next time it will be easier to cope.
  3. Control your cash
  4. Fill in the gap with new things to do
  5. Practise your relaxation

Friends can help
There is no doubt that if you have help from your spouse and close friends you are more likely to succeed. Make an effort to explain your problem to your friends. Most people can understand the problem of getting addicted.
Once you can admit that your problem may have hurt them, and you can tell them so, then they will be barracking for you.

Become a good problem solver
If problems happen in other parts of your life, don’t stick your head in the sand. Do what you’ve done about gambling. Look your problem in the eye and cope with it. Good problem solving has the following steps:

  • Recognise there is a problem and look closely at it.
  • Brainstorm all the ways you could deal with the problem. Write out a list and put down even the silly or impossible ideas.
  • Decide on the best solution and try it out.
  • Check to see if it works. If it doesn’t, start again.
How can I break my gambling habit?