Skip to Main Content

Urge surfing – Tips on how to manage the urge to gamble

By: Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist) and Natalie Herron (clinical psychology registrar)

Often, despite all the hard work we’ve put in, we continue to get urges to gamble. The good news is, these urges can be tolerated without having to act on them!

In psychology, we think of these urges to gamble like a wave. It starts out small, and then rises in intensity. However, like a wave, as time passes it gets smaller and the intensity decreases. We can call this “urge surfing”. We can learn to ride these urge waves to build our tolerances, and our ability to.resist.

An important step in being able to ride the waves of gambling urges, is first being able to notice it when it arises. Take a moment to notice the urge, pause to observe it, and describe your experience. When describing your experience, try to do this in a non-judgemental way and without reacting to it. For example, “I’m noticing a really intense desire to place a bet which is causing my hands to be sweaty and tingly”. The more you practice this, the greater your tolerance and ability to master the difficult urges.

In the beginning of practicing this skill, a lot of people find it helpful to pick some activities they can do to help ride the wave. Particularly during the peak of the wave, which is the highest and hardest part of the urge. Some things which might be helpful to do include distraction activities (things like watching a TV show, going for a walk, calling a friend, reading, or You-Tube) or self-soothing strategies (think of things which feel good for your senses – looking at nostalgic pictures, listening to your favourite song, spraying a nice cologne, eating a tasty snack, or having a relaxing bath/shower). Using words of encouragement – either written down on your phone, or for a loved one to remind you, might also be helpful. These could be things such as “Every wave is an opportunity to be patient and confident” or “For every urge I resist, the next one becomes weaker”.

The skill of urge surfing is an important foundation of being able to manage our emotions and addictive behaviours, and can be used in many different aspects of our life. The more you are able to resist an urge without acting on it, it is likely the less intense and frequent they’ll become. Of course, if you do slip up, you can still use the urge-surfing skill to reduce the wave again.

Discover

The back of a male who is sitting on an edge overlooking the beach.

You’ve had a bust - now what?

Having a gambling bust is often very disappointing, especially when you’ve been working hard to change your relationship with gambling, and embrace more positive behaviours.

Read article
Blog_Xmas.jpg

Getting through the festive season

The holidays can bring about mixed emotions for many people including stress, boredom and loneliness. Here are some helpful suggestions for how to manage gambling urges over the break.

Read article
CampMon_sub_JCH_600x450.jpg

Gambling and the malleable brain

A gambling win activates the brain's pleasure centre. However, when you gamble often, this feeling decreases and you have to gamble more as you chase the same pleasure that once came so easily. But this urge to gamble more can be reversed as explained by neuroplasticity.

Read article
Dreams.jpg

Gambling dreams

Have you ever had a dream (or nightmare) that you were gambling? Or that you wanted to gamble? Or perhaps people around you were gambling, or you were in a familiar venue like a TAB or casino? A dream that felt so real, you woke up and had to check whether or not it happened? If so, you’re not alone.

Read article