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The ‘gambling getaway’: An illusion of escape

By Kelly Tow (Clinical Psychology Registrar) & Dr Anastasia Hronis (Clinical Psychologist)

Life can be full of ups and downs.

Sometimes though, the downs can become so overwhelming that we want nothing more than a way to escape. For some people, this escape might be a holiday, a relaxing activity, or time spent with a loved one.

However, those forms of escape aren’t always possible or feasible for us - especially when stressors such as our financial situation, our relationships, or our mood may be the very reason for our desire to escape in the first place.

This can explain why many people find that gambling can become a form of escape.

Many people report that when they gamble, they are able to temporarily forget about day-to-day stressors. A session of gambling can sometimes feel like brief mental holiday or ‘getaway’ from the challenges in our lives.

The only problem is that those stressors are still there when we return from our temporary escape. In fact, sometimes the temporary escape itself can make problems worse.

For example, gambling often creates further damage to our financial situation and relationships, and can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, self-loathing, and hopelessness. Such situations and emotions can then trigger further urges to gamble (as a means to escape those difficult feelings) and, as you can probably imagine, this can become a very vicious cycle.

These periods of escape also have the potential to develop into an addiction, because our brain releases a chemical called dopamine if we have a ‘win’, and this makes us feel good (you can read more on that here).

Naturally, when something makes us feel good, we tend to want to do it more, even when it isn’t the best choice for us.

This is one of the reasons that using gambling to escape can worsen our problems – because the positive feeling of the ‘escape’ itself can significantly cloud our judgement.

In a similar way, gambling can provide a false sense of control and mastery. While this sense of control is typically an illusion, and gambling odds are generally less favourable than we think, the illusion of control can be appealing when we are feeling helpless or powerless in other areas of our lives.

Despite often knowing that our problems are likely to remain or worsen if we use gambling as a brief escape or ‘getaway’, the urge to do so can remain extremely strong. This is especially the case when the problems in our lives are highly overwhelming.

Some strategies like Urge Surfing and Mindfulness can be helpful in clearing your mind a little, resisting the urge to gamble, and overall placing you in a better headspace to consider the most appropriate step forwards from the difficult place you are in.

For many people, the most appropriate step forwards might include seeking some additional support to work through and problem-solve the challenges that have led them to need an escape.

If you feel this might be applicable to you, or if there is any other gambling issue you might want to talk about, call Gambler’s Help 1800 858 858.



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