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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.

While we colloquially call going back to old gambling habits a “bust” or a “slip”, you might have also heard people talk about having had a “lapse” or a “relapse” with their gambling. There’s a difference between the two that can be important to understand when trying to change your gambling behaviours.

A “lapse” is a temporary slip where someone may revert to gambling again, or gambling in ways that previously caused problems for them. With a lapse, there is a very quick return after the slip, to more positive behaviours associated with gambling, or abstinence.

A “relapse” is often more intense and serious. A person might return to a full-blown pattern of gambling which caused problems for them. It may last days, weeks or longer, and they may need more intensive support to stop than in a lapse.

Think of someone who is on a diet. A lapse would be eating an extra large piece of chocolate cake with dinner, and quicking getting back on track with the diet the next day, while a relapse would be gaining 10kgs while on the diet.

What’s very important is how we think and feel about ourselves after a bust. Feelings of shame, guilt, or embarrassment and excessive self-criticism, can actually be very dangerous for turning a lapse into a relapse, or making a relapse even worse. At these times, treating ourselves with compassion is actually much more useful, than being excessively hard on ourselves.

Here are a few things to keep in mind if you’ve had a bust:

  1. Keep a lapse in perspective for what it is. A lapse. A moment in time. One day, one bet, one gambling episode. Whatever the slip may have looked like for you, it is just that. Be careful not to catastrophize it, or make it into something bigger. That’s a risk for us to throw in the towel and for a relapse to occur. Keep perspective. Just as you have changed your gambling behaviours before, you can do so again.
  2. Notice if you tend to fall into any unhelpful thinking patterns e.g. “I’ve blown it”, “I’m a failure”, I”ll never be able to stop”. These sorts of thoughts are unhelpful, as they lead to feelings of guilt, sadness, shame and embarrassment. Instead, self-compassion would have us try to shift our thoughts to be “I’ve had a slip and can get back on track”, “This slip doesn’t discount all the positive changes I’ve made”, “I can learn from this and get back on course”.
  3. Identify if there was a particular trigger for your bust. Was it a certain person? Place? Feeling? It may be worth writing up a “trigger list”, to help you prepare for future situations which might be risky. While it can be useful to try to avoid triggers, it may also be worth talking with a therapist so that you don’t need to avoid all the things on your trigger list forever.
  4. Reach out for support. A slip can be a good time to reach out for extra support from friends, family and professionals. It’s often a time when people feel more vulnerable, and additional help can be very beneficial.

Remember: slips, busts, lapses, relapses are extremely common. Being hard on ourselves often does more damage than good. Be kind to yourself, take away what you can from the experience, and continue making positive changes.

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