It’s estimated that for every person who has a problem with gambling, another five to 10 people are negatively affected. A person’s gambling behaviour can have social, physical and financial impacts on those who are close to them. Whether it’s your partner, child, parent, workmate or friend, the behaviour and consequences of problem gambling can have a significant impact.
How you can tell if there’s an issue
Today, gambling is everywhere. It’s heavily promoted and widely accepted across all age groups. This means more people are exposed to it than ever before. People gamble for many reasons – for excitement, for the thrill of winning, or to be social. It can often be hard to tell when it stops being fun and starts becoming a problem.
Gambling becomes a problem when it harms:
• mental or physical health
• work, school and other activities
• relationships with family and friends.
Someone may start gambling for fun, have some early wins, and then keep playing in the hope they’ll win again and experience the same good feelings. However, when they begin to lose, particularly big losses, the cycle of problem gambling can start. Gambling can be an escape for people who’ve experienced a stressful change in life, like illness or divorce, or who want to forget about life’s worries, such as relationship issues or money troubles. Others may start playing the pokies because they’re lonely and crave company.
When people turn to gambling at vulnerable times in their lives, and it becomes a way for them to cope, it can lead to problem gambling. Young people aged under 18 and people who’ve grown up in a home with a parent or grandparent with gambling issues have a higher risk than others of developing a gambling problem. Even though there are no drugs or substances involved in gambling, problem gambling has a similar effect on the brain as drug and alcohol addictions.
How do you know if someone has a problem with gambling?
Apart from losing money, problem gambling affects a person’s whole life and the lives of those close to them. If you’re concerned about someone, look out for:
• unexplained debt or borrowing
• money or assets disappearing
• numerous loans
• unpaid bills or disconnection notices
• lack of food in the house
• losing wallets or money regularly
• missing financial statements
• secret bank accounts, loans or credit cards
• moodiness, unexplained anger
• decreased contact with friends
• family complaints about being emotionally shut out
• avoidance of social events
• control or manipulation by threat, lies or charm
• secretiveness about activities
• disappearing for amounts of time that they cannot account for
• having no time for everyday activities
• overusing sick days and days off
• spending increased amounts of time on studying gambling
• taking an unusual amount of time for tasks (for example, taking two hours to get milk from the corner store).
How you can help someone with a gambling problem
Recovering from problem gambling isn’t easy. It takes hard work and a lot of encouragement. Many people with gambling problems are able to turn their lives around because of support from people close to them. Help can be provided to support with information and advice specifically suited to your situation. When you don’t have a gambling problem yourself, it can be difficult to understand why someone with a problem doesn’t just stop. Problem gambling has a similar effect on the brain as drug and alcohol addictions, which explains why just trying to stop isn’t usually enough to make it happen. It also explains why many people have to try several times before successfully stopping.
If someone close to you has a gambling problem, you can’t change their behaviour or force them to stop, but you can help them. You can make it clear that their gambling is affecting others, that they need to get help, that there is help available, and that it works.
Looking out for your children
When a parent has an issue with gambling, it can have a huge 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 help children affected by gambling. Although they may not say anything, they can feel isolated, angry and depressed by what’s happening at home.
In extreme cases, gambling may mean children:
• don’t have enough to eat
• can’t have 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 when they’re ready to
• 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 OK
• don’t put down the person with the gambling problem as this can be confusing – separate the person from the behaviour and acknowledge that the behaviour is bad, not the person.