Understanding—and Overcoming—Your Biggest Gambling Triggers

Does changing your gambling ever feel more like riding a “merry-go-round” than making steady progress? Or that just as you take a step towards a healthier, freer lifestyle, you get caught up in betting again?

If so, you’re not alone. Many individuals who gamble recognize the negative effects of betting—but struggle to stay off the gambling merry-go-round. Because without clearly identifying their triggers, making a plan to overcome or avoid those triggers, and seeking accountability, it can be hard to make a change that sticks.

Recognizing the feelings and situations that cause you to gamble can be a powerful first step towards taking control over your gambling—and your life. If you’re ready to start managing your betting and experiencing freedom from the triggers that push you to gamble, begin with these simple steps.

1. Make a list of your personal gambling triggers.

Gambling “triggers”—factors that give you the strong desire to gamble—can often include watching sports with friends, experiencing loneliness, seeing gambling ads online or on TV, and consuming alcohol—which can limit your self-control.

The better you can recognize—and learn how to overcome or avoid—your personal triggers, the more likely you are to regain control over your gambling. And that’s a critical step towards living a life free from the negative consequences of gambling.

When identifying your gambling triggers, think about what causes you to bet when you’d rather not.

Are there certain situations in which you nearly always choose to gamble? Do you notice any patterns in your gambling, like always gambling on payday, or stopping by a particular casino on your way home from work?

Make a list of the triggers and situations that make it hard to avoid gambling. Then consider sharing that list with your trusted friends and family. Together, you can begin pushing back against the triggers.

2. Make an actionable overcome-or-avoid plan.

To effectively overcome or avoid the triggers you’ve identified, it’s important to make an action plan. That way, when you do face those triggers, you’re ready to react in a positive way—one that benefits you and your loved ones.

There’s no “perfect plan” for overcoming your gambling triggers. But effective plans typically include these three elements:

  1. Taking responsibility for your gambling. When you face a trigger, remember the negative impact gambling has on your family, your finances, and your health. Ask yourself, is this bet worth the cost—to you and to your relationships?

  2. Set limits. To avoid betting more money than you want to, set clear limits on yourself. You can set a limit on the number of bets you’ll place every month, the maximum amount you’ll bet, or even the kinds of bets you’ll place.

  3. Seek out accountability. Tell your loved ones about your trigger list and personal limits. Ask if they’ll help you avoid triggering situations—and encourage you to respond to your triggers in a healthy way.

You may find it helpful to write down your triggers and your action plan to overcome them. Keeping both lists nearby, in a note on your phone or in your wallet, can continually remind you of how far you’ve come—and how you can continue making meaningful progress.

3. Consider reaching out for help and support.

Research continues to support the value of professional help in helping individuals who want to better manage their gambling experience real, lasting change. That’s why, no matter what type of gambling you want to change, professional help can be one of your best resources.

Every day at the Nebraska Problem Gamblers Assistance Program (NPGAP), we help Nebraskans manage their gambling and enjoy life again. When you reach out to our free, confidential helpline, you’ll be immediately connected to our Helpline Specialist Justin Antons (MA, LIMHP, LADC, CDGC). No waiting, no hold time, just free, confidential, supportive help. 

Together, you and Justin will:

  • Talk about your gambling, and why it’s finally time to make this important change.

  • Learn how to work through your personal triggers and reduce your cravings.

  • Identify your support system and key accountability partners.

  • Fix your finances and make a manageable debt payoff plan.

Anyone can change their gambling. And the NPGAP is here when you want a little extra help.

If you or someone you love would benefit from the NPGAP’s free resources and support, call 1-833-BETOVER (238-6837) or text 402-806-7344 and get help right away.


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