Feelings And Situations That Precede Gambling Relapse

Why do so many people relapse when they are trying to stop gambling? It has been estimated that 50 to 75 percent of gamblers resume gambling after attempting to quit (N. M. Petry et al., 2006), but what are the thoughts, feelings and situations that precede these events? Researchers who study alcohol and drug abuse – disorders with similarly high rates of relapse – have developed a questionnaire designed to answer these questions for their audiences. A recent study published in the journalExperimental and Clinical Psychopharmacologyattempts to validate this same type of questionnaire for people with gambling disorders (Nancy M Petry, Rash, & Blanco, 2010). The new study attempts to extend and validate Petry’s previous work adapting the Inventory of Drinking Situations for gambling situations (called the Inventory of Gambling Situations, IGS).

The researchers gave the IGS to 283 people seeking treatment for alcohol and drug abuse who were also identified as problem or pathological gamblers. The IGS asked respondents how likely they were to gamble, on a 1 to 4 scale, in response to each of 47 different situations. The situations described the following types of scenarios:

– Emotional situations: “When other people treated me unfairly”

– Physical conditions: “When I would have trouble sleeping”

– Thought cues:“When I would start thinking about all the money I owe”

The researchers used statistical analysis to group similar questions together and to find out how much of the variance in gambling behavior was explained by each group of questions. The first group contained questions about negative emotions (e.g. “When I felt tense or nervous”) and explained 24.6 percent of the variation. The second group contained questions about positive emotions (e.g. “When I would be relaxed and wanted to have a good time”) and explained 15.2 percent of the variance in gambling behavior. The third group contained questions about gambling cues (e.g. “When I would see an advertisement about gambling”), and explained 9.5 percent of the variance. The final group contained questions about social situations (e.g. “When I was with friends and they were gambling”), and explained 8.3 percent of the variance.

All together, the IGS accounted for 57.6 percent of the variance in gambling behaviors found in the sample. This kind of information can be used by therapists to help clients identify what feelings and situations can lead to relapse. It is also possible that gamblers who are having problems, but have not yet progressed to a clinical gambling disorder, may be able to avoid more serious gambling problems by being aware of the feelings and situations that can trigger gambling behavior.

More information about the article is available on the website of the journalExperimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology. Do you have thoughts or questions about prevention and treatment of gambling disorders? Tell us in the Comments section below.


Petry, N. M., Ammerman, Y., Bohl, J., Doersch, A., Gay, H., Kadden, R., Molina, C., et al. (2006). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for pathological gamblers.Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology,74(3), 555-67. doi:2006-08433-015 [pii] 10.1037/0022-006X.74.3.555

Petry, N. M., Rash, C. J., & Blanco, C. (2010). The Inventory of Gambling Situations in problem and pathological gamblers seeking alcohol and drug abuse treatment.Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology,18(6), 530-538. doi:10.1037/a0021718

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