The ‘Merry-Go-Round’ of Habitual Relapse: A Qualitative Study of Relapse in Electronic Gaming Machine Problem Gambling

Jane Oakes, Rene Pols, Sharon Lawn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)
15 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Our understanding of gambling relapse is limited despite the damaging consequences affecting many aspects of the gambler’s life. Paradoxically, regardless of these negative consequences problem gamblers (PGs) continue to relapse, seemingly unable to stop this cycle of harm. This paper addresses the phenomenon of repeated gambling relapse shedding some insights into why gamblers continue to relapse. Methods: The study comprised of (n = 54) participants purposefully selected who participated in either 1 of 5 focus groups (n = 35) or in-depth interviews (n = 19). The new knowledge obtained was from PGs, significant others, and workers with direct experience of gambling relapse. Interview recordings were analysed using thematic, textual analysis. Results: The avoidance of negative emotions from the consequences of the destructive behaviour associated with repeated relapse leads to a hopeless “merry-go-round”. Once on this “merry go round”, relapse becomes a habitual way of life where behaviour change and learning from the devastation of a gambling relapse is challenging. Exiting this cycle means PGs must face the consequences of their gambling which for many is overwhelming, and relapse is a way to avoid despair. Conclusions: These findings provide insights into relapse which has implications for gamblers seeking treatment, assessment and treatment “drop-outs”.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2858
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number16
Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2019


  • Despair
  • Focus group
  • Gambling harms
  • In-depth interviews
  • Negative emotions
  • Problem gambling
  • Relapse


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