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How boredom triggers gambling and what you can do about it

By Dr Anastasia Hronis (Clinical Psychologist) & Natalie Winiarski (Research Assistant)

Do you find yourself gambling when you’re bored? In this article, we explore the relationship between boredom and gambling, and provide you with some practical tips about how to break that cycle and find alternatives.

We all know that when people are bored, they might be more susceptible to behaviours that aren’t that good for them, like excessive eating and drinking. However, this behaviour goes beyond mere time-killing; there’s a real science behind the behaviour.

When we are bored, our brains lack stimulation, causing our dopamine levels to drop. This triggers our brain to take action to raise our dopamine activity, and behaviours like eating, drinking or going on our phones become the go-to-solutions.

Similarly, gambling can serve as a dopamine inducing activity which can make you feel “better” when boredom strikes. This is particularly the case with the proliferation of online gambling that provides a solution to boredom in the palm of your hand. However, when your brain and body become accustomed to the psychological and physiological reactions to gambling during boredom, this sets the stage for habitual behaviour, which can become problematic. Over time, you may find yourself increasingly resorting to gambling as the default coping mechanism to alleviate feelings of boredom in various situations. In this way, boredom can be a powerful trigger for gambling and may lead to an impulsive decision to engage in gambling when trying to stop.

It is important to acknowledge that when we stop gambling, we have removed something that (although problematic) still played a role in making us feel ‘rewarded’. Hence, a cycle emerges, where stopping gambling introduces a challenge to replace the ‘pleasure’, thrill or mission that gambling leaves behind, which can increase feelings of boredom, and in turn, increase the urge to gamble.

Fortunately, this issue can be tackled from two ends. On one end, you can create more structure in your day to reduce the possibility for boredom to emerge. On the other end, given we can’t escape boredom indefinity, it is important to learn to effectively manage boredom to reduce its impact on your urge to gamble.

1. Recognise the Pattern

First of all, it is important to recognise the patterns between our day-to day lives, and when boredom emerges. Try to identify when it is you feel bored. Are there certain times of the day? Is it when you are in certain environments? Perhaps it’s during the train ride to work, or when you come home from a busy day. Mindfulness can be helpful here. Mindfulness enables us to bring awareness to the present moment and really identify what we are thinking, what we are feeling, and the internal and external experience we are having.

2. Effectively Manage Boredom

Once you have identified when and where you are more likely to experience boredom, think about what you can do differently during these times. Plan-ahead by developing a list of other behaviours that you can engage in during these times of boredom. Some suggestions might be to reach out to a friend, go for a walk and listen to some music, cook a nice meal, clean around the house, read a book or anything else you can think of. These might be pleasant activities, but they might also be productive ones. Note that things like scrolling social media or watching TV are unlikely to be very effective in these situations. It is more effective to engage in stimulation and engaging activities, rather than passive.

Another approach is to try to do something completely different. Our brains crave novelty and having a new challenge, goal or task can increase excitement, curiosity and motivation, which can help keep the urge to gamble at bay. This may include taking online courses, learning a new skill, sport, language or exploring topics of interest online.

3. Reduce The Opportunity for Boredom to Emerge

Another strategy is to reduce the emergence of boredom by creating a schedule for each day of rewarding things to do, places or people to see. Whether it’s playing a sport, attending an event, going to the gym, having a self-care night, having planned leisure time can prevent idle moments. This can also help you build new healthy habits and give your brain something exciting to look forward to instead of allowing your brain to revert back to auto-pilot reward-seeking behaviours such as gambling.

All of this can be difficult, but you do not have to do so alone. For more support on this topic or any gambling issue you might want to talk about, call Gambler’s Help 1800 858 858 or visit our Find Support page for more options.

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