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Gambling recovery: Learning new ways to celebrate

By: Aimee Oliveri (clinical psychologist) & Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)

People love to celebrate. We readily applaud life's conventional milestones—graduating, securing a new job, getting married. Yet, the significance of celebrating milestones in gambling recovery is often overlooked. Acknowledging these milestones can be helpful, as they not only reinforces desired behaviours but also boosts self-esteem and self-confidence.

Understanding Milestones

Milestones in recovery are personal achievements that signify progress, growth, or accomplishment. They can vary from resisting a gambling urge, reaching specific days without gambling, to achieving broader life goals.

Celebrating these milestones helps shift focus from struggle to progress, boosting morale, and motivation.

The Psychology of Celebration in Recovery

Celebrations in the context of gambling recovery play a crucial role by offering tangible recognition of one's efforts and rewarding gamble-free behaviour. This reinforcement helps rewire the brain's reward system, often skewed in gambling addiction to associate pleasure solely with gambling.

Furthermore, as gambling can be ritualistic—regularly performed under specific circumstances at certain times—establishing new, positive rituals like celebrating milestones offers healthy alternatives and assists in breaking the cycle of dependency. These shifts are essential for sustainable recovery and personal growth.

Practical Steps to Reinforce Recovery

When recognising and celebrating milestones in gambling recovery, planning ahead gives you a clear target and strengthens your tolerance for delayed gratification. Key steps include:

1. Establish Milestones:

  • Determine the specific achievements that will mark progress in your recovery journey. Tailor these milestones to address your unique situation.

    For instance:
    • Time-based milestones: Celebrate durations such as one week, one month, or one year without gambling.
    • Personal victories: Focus on personal goals like saving money or mending relationships.
    • Effective coping: Acknowledge times when you successfully manage triggers and resist the urge to gamble.

2. Be Specific and Realistic:

  • Once you have determined your general milestones, try to make them both specific (e.g., note where, when and with who) and realistic.

    For example:
    • When saving money, you may aim to save $500 by the end of June.

3. Aim for Short and Long-term Milestones:

  • Aim for both short and long-term milestones.
  • For example, in the short term, you may work towards being gamble-free for one week, and in the long term, you may work towards achieving financial stability.

4. Involve Your Support Network:

  • Share your successes with supportive friends and family.
  • This will also help with accountability.

5. Reflect on Progress:

  • Use milestones as an opportunity to reflect on the progress made and recalibrate your recovery goals if necessary.

6. Find diverse Ways to Celebrate

  • Celebrating milestones in gambling recovery can be difficult because celebrations in the past might have included activities linked to gambling. Finding new, healthy ways to celebrate that do not trigger old gambling habits is crucial.

    Examples include:
    • Physical Activity: Engage in outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, or a simple picnic in the park. Nature can be incredibly soothing and a great way to commemorate a milestone.
    • Creative Outlets: Pursue creative endeavours like painting, writing, or crafting. These activities not only occupy the mind but also provide a sense of accomplishment.
    • Educational Pursuits: Take a class or start a new hobby that challenges you intellectually. Learning something new can be a rewarding way to mark a milestone.
    • Wellness Practices: Incorporate wellness activities such as a massage, fishing, or a holiday. These practices support self-care, can help maintain mental balance and promote continued recovery.
    • Social Activities: Hosting a small gathering with friends or family that focuses on activities like games, movies, or a meal can be a really wholesome way to recognise your achievements.
    • Enjoyable Activities: Reward yourself with activities that spark joy, such as buying yourself something you've been wanting, going to the movies, or enjoying a favourite meal. It can be extra motivating to do this using the money you’ve saved by not gambling.

Celebrating milestones is an essential part of the gambling recovery process. This approach not only boosts morale but also helps in creating and reinforcing new, healthier associations, essential for long-term recovery from gambling addiction.

For more support on this topic or any gambling issue you might want to talk about, call Gambler’s Help 1800 858 858.


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