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

    5 Citations (Scopus)
    7 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
    JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
    Issue number16
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Aug 2019

    Bibliographical note

    (CC-BY 4.0) Open Access article licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license ( .


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


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