For every person who has a problem with gambling, it is estimated that another five to ten people are also negatively affected.
A person’s problematic gambling behaviour can have social, physical and financial implications for those who are close to them. It is common for partners, children, parents, workmates and friends of gamblers to feel the impact of someone’s problem gambling.
Problem gambling can make it difficult to maintain close emotional relationships. Intimate relationships are put under stress when a problem gambler is secretive about the extent of their gambling, and communication can become strained. There is evidence of an association between gambling problems and family violence.
It can be an extremely confusing time for family members who are trying to make sense of someone struggling with problem gambling, often leading to feelings of exhaustion, panic and anger in those around the gambler. Some of the more common problems reported by family members of a problem gambler are:
- loss of household or personal money
- an increase in family arguments
- anger and violence within the family
- evidence of lies and deception
- a breakdown in effective communication
- confusion of responsibilities
- the development of gambling problems in other members of the family
Children and gambling
A parent’s problematic gambling can have a serious impact on their children. Studies have shown* that children of people with gambling problems are far more likely to have gambling problems themselves later in life. It is important to find a way to support children who may be affected by a family member’s gambling. Although the child may not feel able to speak about it, a parent’s gambling can leave them feeling isolated, angry and depressed by the often chaotic and dysfunctional situation at home.
In extreme cases, gambling may mean that children…
- don’t have enough to eat
- aren’t provided with new clothes or shoes when they need them
- miss out on activities such as sport, school excursions, camps or music lessons
- have trouble with their studies
- have to take on more ‘adult’ responsibilities, such as looking after younger children
- witness increased arguments and tension
- experience family violence
- experience family breakdown
- experience homelessness.
To minimise the effect on children and to support them emotionally:
- encourage them to talk freely about their feelings, but let them do this at their own pace
- assure them that they are not responsible
- try to keep them engaged in family activities
- try not to over-involve them in helping to solve financial and other problems caused by gambling
- ensure they understand that the family may need to budget, but that they will be okay
- acknowledge that it is the behaviour of the person gambling that is the problem, rather than the person
* The Effect of Pathological Gambling on Families, Marriages, and Children, Martha Shaw et al, Cambridge University Press, 2014