What to do when gambling becomes a problem in your household

If you’ve never experienced the pull of a destructive gambling habit it can be hard to understand why your loved one can’t stop gambling.

The bright, flashing lights, vibrant colours, celebratory music, and cash prizes that poker machines offer trigger the reward centre of the brain, releasing a feel-good chemical called dopamine. This is one reason why it can be difficult to stop. The brain is conditioned to believe your mood will be lifted by gambling. Getting a rush of dopamine makes you want to do the thing that triggered the chemical release again… and again… and again.

For someone with a destructive gambling habit their life can be in turmoil. Although they want to stop and one part of them knows the destruction their habit is causing, another part of their brain is benefitting from the rush of feel good chemicals.

In the short term it can be difficult to force behavioural change when it is reinforced by a perceived benefit. Hassling them to quit often makes gamblers feel angry or even bullied. It is good to remember that they are probably already giving themselves a hard time and could be feeling ashamed by their behaviour.

Most problem gamblers aren’t aware they’re affecting others, so one of the best things you can do is share your concerns and show them you care. Once your loved one understands the consequences of their gambling it can help them to take the first steps towards getting help.

Here are some tips to support your loved one’s recovery.

Talk about your feelings

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One of the first steps to recovery is sharing your feelings and concerns with your loved one. You could mention the changes in their demeanor, their overall disconnect from friends and family members, plus their constant need for more money.

Tell your loved one that you’ve noticed a change from the person they used to be and share your concern – it shows you prefer the real them to return. Sometimes a little support is all someone needs and recovery is not about changing into a better person but returning to the person they used to be before gambling took over. It is a reclaiming of self.

Listen to their feelings

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When you first broach the subject of their gambling don’t be alarmed if your loved one denies the problem, says very little, or gets angry. This is their way of avoiding embarrassment and means they’re not ready to talk about it yet.

If this is the case suggest taking a break from the conversation. You can always revisit the conversation later when they’ve calmed down.

On the other side of the coin, some people are relieved to share the emotional weight of their addiction. Coming clean and revealing what has been going through their mind is an important phase in the change process.  Listen to their feelings with an open mind and, if they’re willing, start making an action plan for recovery.

Remove the temptation


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If your loved one is ready to start the journey to recovery, you can help them along by avoiding venues where they’re likely to gamble, like pubs and clubs.

You could also encourage them to avoid spending time with their old gambling buddies – it’s harsh ignoring friends, but the chance of peer pressure to gamble is high. Outside the gambling venue theses buddies might not be as good a friend as thought.

Another method of removing the temptation to gamble is for the gambler to delete betting apps from their phone and blocking gambling websites online. Online betting is becoming more popular amongst gamblers, even putting the pokies to shame.

In fact, according to a recent Social & Economic Impact Study (SEIS), poker machine use has declined from $262 million in 2008 – 2009 to $191 million in 2015 – 2016, whereas online gambling has increased 18.6% in 2018.

Help them manage their money


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Agreed and negotiated money caretaking is an important recovery strategy. The gambler may find it helpful to plan a budget together, limiting their gambling funds, and having their credit or EFTPOS cards looked after. With less cash on their cards and a limit to their spending, the temptation to sneak out and gamble should be lessened for them.

Again, remember to discuss all of this with them first.

Protect your money


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Until your loved one has recovered, it might be a good idea to protect your own money by creating separate spending accounts, removing your name from shared accounts, and avoiding leaving your wallet lying around the house.

It sounds harsh and it might make your loved one feel like you don’t trust them… but remind them you need to feel secure too and it’s a temporary thing while they’re getting back on their feet.

The person with a gambling problem might also ask you to lend them money to get them back on their feet. If this is necessary consider paying the important bills for them rather than giving them cash. Be clear that loans must be paid back. They could benefit with some information about financial counselling.

Samaritans provides financial counselling for people struggling with money. Contact us on (02) 4960 7100 for more information about our services – we can help your loved one get back on their feet!

Do activities you both like doing together

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Excessive gambling can take over your whole life. It might have been a long time since your loved one has been able to do the things they used to enjoy. What activities or interests did your partner once enjoy?

Suggest other fun activities to do together, like going to the movies, going for walk in the fresh air, visiting the beach or having a meal together.

Keeping active is a positive step towards recovery from a gambling problem. Exercise releases a chemical in the brain called endorphins which literally reduce your perception of pain!

Endorphins also trigger a positive feeling throughout your body easing negative emotions and moods.

Need some fun, fitness related activities? Consider taking up indoor climbing, jogging, sport climbing outdoors, kayaking, or even bush walking. Try find some unique outdoor activities to distract from the urge to gamble and provide an enjoyable alternative.

Connect your loved one with a professional counselling service

Many problem gamblers also suffer from depression, anxiety, restlessness, and at times, alcoholism or increased drug use . A downward spiral or negative emotional state can trigger a gambling session.

There are countless side effects to excessive gambling, not just limited to a low mood. Gambling can also cause critical financial debts and an overwhelming feeling of distrust between friends and family members.

Your loved one might need some professional help to bounce back from their gambling.

Samaritans offer a range of services to help gamblers reclaim their lives.

Our financial counsellors will listen to your situation and together we will work out the best possible option for your loved one moving forward. We provide free, confidential and independent financial counselling throughout the Hunter region of NSW.

We also provide expert gambling counselling in the Hunter and Mid North Coast areas. Our counsellors help with individual counselling, relationship counselling, family counselling and counselling for grief, ensuring your whole family recovers from the hard times.

We can help find a solution to get your finances back in check, plus help you achieve a level state of mind again.

Contact us on 4993 3455 in the Hunter or 0456 816 829 in the Mid North Coast to access our expert gambling counselling.