What to do if someone close to you is in gambling distress
If you suspect someone you care about is gambling in a way that could cause them harm, what can you do?
Mention the word gambling and most people think of poker machines, scratch lottery cards, sports betting and lotteries in all their forms and guises. These are all traditional gambling activities where people risk their money or assets. But, easy to access emerging technology can take gambling behaviour to another level again, increasing the risks to someone with a gambling problem.
Technology has expanded the range of ways people can gamble. The new and myriad avenues for gambling can make it difficult to know when someone is harming themselves through gambling.
Modern forms of gambling might include:
- Online investment trading
- Fantasy sports
- Games with in-app purchases
- Online auctions.
Source: Gambling Help Online
Designed for ease of accessibility, and offering incentives to keep coming back, modern gambling platforms are insidious and addictive. Being able to transact in the privacy of your own home means problem gambling is easily hidden, and very isolating. Some apps deliver ‘push’ notifications directly to mobile phones. This can make a gambling habit particularly difficult to break.
An urge is a strong desire or impulse to do something. A gambling urge might be associated with chasing an adrenaline rush, taking a risk, or having a win. For many people, the urge to gamble is overwhelming and often feels impossible to resist.
Compulsive behaviour, due to underlying mental health issues including anxiety and depression, can sometimes contribute to the urges of problematic gambling.
Signs of gambling distress
Gambling distress can have a negative impact on finances, relationships, behaviour, mental wellbeing and the way a person uses and prioritises their time and day to day responsibilities.
Financial signs of gambling distress include borrowing money, taking out multiple loans and being secretive about payslips. Unpaid bills, missing household items and overdue fines are further indications a person may be experiencing gambling distress.
Behavioural signs of gambling distress include withdrawing from family, appearing worried and using threats to manipulate others. Work performance can decline and some people express feelings of hopelessness when under to gambling distress.
Time-related signs of gambling distress include unexplained absences from work and arriving late, or not at all, for social commitments. Being unusually guarded about their movements and being unable to account for how they are spending their time are further signs a person may be living with gambling distress.
Talking about gambling
Many people find it difficult to talk about gambling out of fear of not knowing what to say, or how to approach it without isolating someone further. It can be helpful to begin with a positive statement of concern, before addressing the specifics of the gambling issue.
For example: I care deeply about our family and your health. Because I care, I would like to talk about a few of the things I have been noticing lately.
Keep in mind that the person you plan to talk with may not be prepared to admit to having a problem. Using ‘I’ statements, rather than ‘you’ judgements, can help you express concern without making your loved one feel threatened.
If the person you care about refuses to change gambling behaviours
The person you are concerned about may not believe their gambling is a problem. It is not unusual for people to cycle through periods of denial and awareness. Many gambling addicts refuse to change until they hit a crisis they simply can’t solve on their own.
Sometimes the best you can do is let the person know you are willing to support them when they are ready to seek help. The impact of gambling on family and friends can be profound. Self-care is an important part of helping others.
Support is available for everyone affected by gambling
The confidential Gamblers Helpline offers advice and counselling to gamblers and concerned friends, family and colleagues of gamblers, free of charge. For telephone assistance, phone free call number 1800 858 858.
Alternatively, by joining the Gambling Help Online Community, you can receive free access to the following services:
- Chat counselling online
- Email support
- SMS services
- Online forum participation
- Self help modules
- Self assessments.
If the person you care about wants to change gambling behaviours
If the person expresses a wish to reduce, or cease, their gambling behaviour you can help them to reconnect with friends and family. Encourage them to avoid spending time with gambling acquaintances and help them delete gambling accounts and phone apps.
Social support will play an important role in recovery and you can provide suggestions of activities to fill the time that used to be spent on gambling. Outings to the movies, galleries and shows can be great distractions and provide easy conversation afterwards.
Celebrating small triumphs, and highlighting any positive changes you have observed, will help boost self-esteem and establish trust. Always seek support and advice from a professional – medical practitioner, gambling support community or counsellor - if you’re worried about someone you care about.
Relapse: it happens
Relapse does not happen to everyone, but it is a common part of the change process. Reassure your loved one, and yourself, that relapse does not mean recovery is impossible. Just as the habits of gambling take some time to become established, so too does the recovery.
Often described as the most devastating aspect of the recovery journey, relapse can be traumatic for everyone. If relapse does occur it is important to seek help and revisit the change strategies your loved one found most helpful.
Where to go to get help right away
If you suspect that someone close to you is in gambling distress there are many ways you can offer your support. Practical suggestions and strategies for gamblers are available online through Gambling Help Online or on their confidential Gamblers Help telephone service on free call number 1800 858 858.
If the person you care about is in financial trouble and needs professional help to overcome their debt, you (or they) can contact the National Debt Hotline on 1800 007 007, available from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm on week days*.
(* at the time of writing this article in September 2017, these were the opening hours. Please check the National Debt Hotline to confirm)
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