How do I talk to my loved one about their gambling problem?

Man stands at poker machine

Samaritans Gambling Counsellor, Graeme, offers practical advice on how to talk to your loved one about their gambling problem.

Signs of a gambling addiction

If you already suspect your loved one has a gambling problem you may have picked up on some indicators.

Have you noticed they’re:

  • Withdrawn from family, friends and activities?
  • Have mood swings and anger outbursts?
  • Missing money?
  • Not paying bills?
  • Irritable or dismissive when discussing money?
  • Away from the house a lot?
  • Borrowing money?
  • Selling possessions?
  • Using computer or phone a lot (online gambling)?

If you already suspect there is a gambling problem – be prepared in case it’s bigger than you expected.

Spend some time connecting to or talking to an independent person about your feelings of anger, fear, disbelief and betrayal. This will prepare you to discuss the issue with your loved one.

The topic is best approached as a problem that needs a solution rather than an attack on the person.  The old saying “hard on the problem, easy on the person” is true.

Change is possible

Change is possible and talking about the issue is a very important and supportive part of that change process.

The gambler’s readiness to talk as well as your need to talk can be considered. Do you want to go softly and speak indirectly?

  • It seems many people gamble in an attempt to escape from stress. Have you been stressed lately?
    or
  • I been reading that social gamblers become problem gamblers after a few wins. How is your gambling going?

A direct yet respectful assertive approach could be;

  • I’m concerned about where our money is going and worried you are gambling. Can we talk about this?
    or
  • I’ve been noticing your mood swings. It’s not like you. Can we talk about your gambling? I want to help.

The ease of discussing a gambling problem with your loved one depends on what stage the gambler is at. Is the gambler willing to talk, is the problem denied or minimised, does the gambler act offended or shamed by the intrusion? Some gamblers are afraid to start the conversation because they are worried about being thrown out or their partner leaving them. Things are easier when they believe you’re willing to support them and work things out.

It’s helpful to be respectful towards the gambler and avoid blaming, criticising or yelling. This can be difficult as your true feelings are most likely about anger, fear, disbelief and feeling betrayed.

What can you do before talking to a gambler?

  1. Discharge your emotions before talking.
  2. Remember- you aren’t responsible for the problem.
  3. Stay focused on seeking a remedy to the problem and not blame to the person.
  4. Pick a time when both people are calm and have time to talk.
  5. Treat the gambler with respect and try to sound supportive.
  6. Listen carefully for clues to the “real problem” i.e. anxiety, worry, no free time. Offer help to resolve those issues.
  7. Own your feelings – don’t make it sound as though the gambler is the cause of your feelings.
  8. State your feelings factually; disappointed, shocked, angry, feeling let down.
  9. Express your needs; we can’t lose our house, I want to be able to trust you, I need our family to be safe, our kids need security, your gambling must stop.
  10. Extend an offer of support – I want to work this out with you, I want the old you back. What are your thoughts on this?  Can we do this together?

Remember to protect yourself

If you suspect a gambling problem in a loved one, it can be bigger than you expect and you need to protect yourself financially.

Talk to a free financial counsellor – they will be really helpful for you. There are a few things you need to consider when looking into protecting your financial situation:

  • Remove your name from loan accounts, joint credit cards etc.
  • Restrict the gamblers access to cash
  • Don’t leave cash lying around
  • Have joint signatures required on accounts
  • Check that all bills are paid on time
  • Ask the bank to remove redraw facilities on home loans

As a part of the NSW Gambling Help initiative, Samaritans offers free gambling counselling in the Hunter and Mid North Coast regions.

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How do I tell my family about my gambling problem?