How Do I Tell My Family I Have a Gambling Problem?

Many people experience great relief after they have told a loved one about their gambling. It’s like a weight has been lifted from them – knowing there is no need for lies, hiding and deception. The task of recovery can begin.

Talking about the problem is one of the first steps of change and it is good to remember that more positive change will flow when the right steps are taken.

Asking for help is an acknowledgement of the faith you have in the other person.  It’s good to let the person know you’re are asking for help and want to resolve the problem. Hopefully this road to recovery can be done hand in hand – you will benefit from the support which follows once the secret is out.

Your loved one might want reassurances for time away from home or money control. This is normal and can be negotiated. What are you prepared to do and how will it look?

The fact that you are thinking about telling family about your gambling is very positive. It indicates you’re looking for change and want to change. This is a good place to start. Take some time to think about how life will change once your secret is out.

A word of caution though: You will see things very differently from your loved one. For you the problem is over and things will get better. For the person receiving the news for the first time there will be feelings of shock, disbelief, feelings of betrayal and uncertainty.

This is not a reason to hold back. Neither the gambler nor the non-gambler will benefit from holding back. You aren’t protecting anyone by keeping a secret. Talking to your family is about honesty, openness and revealing secrets. And remember, sharing your problem will bring a feeling of relief to your loved ones.

Looking ahead – things will get better and change will occur. Keep your motivation up by reflecting on how gambling took you away from being a good parent, a loving partner, and an honest person. Think about what values you hold that became clouded by gambling? Reconnect with those values before you talk will be helpful – it’s better to approach your talk with your values and self-respect intact.

Seven steps to consider before sharing your gambling problem

  1. Decide who is the first person you’ll talk to.
  2. Try to see things through the other person’s eyes and gauge their reaction. This will help you to be genuine and understanding when the conversation begins;
    “I know you must feel very betrayed right now.”
    “I know you are very disappointed with the money loss.”
  3. Try to understand your gambling addiction. Was it about escaping depression, calming difficult emotions, gaining relief from work pressure, or needing time out?  If you are willing to look at these underlying reasons, recovery can be more effective and remedying the root cause of gambling can be part of the recovery plan. Remember – when you have the initial conversation with your loved ones,  don’t use these reasons as excuses to gamble.
  4. Prepare yourself for the outburst and possible reaction. Will you be asked to leave the house for a while? Where will you go? Have a backup plan in case, and remember – just because they’re asking for space now doesn’t mean they don’t still love you.
  5. Pick a time when you are both calm and have time to talk. Tell the other person there is something important you want to talk about and check if it is a good time. Say you are asking for help and state your feelings; are you worried, nervous, feeling ashamed?
  6. Remain calm; do not criticise or blame the other person. Try to acknowledge feelings as in step 2. Refocus on the purpose of the conversation; so the gambling can stop and recovery can begin.
  7. Talking is an early stage in the change process that needs commitment and negotiation. It will be helpful if you are prepared to take responsibility and avoid the “Yes buts” and “If onlys”. It is a time when both people will need support and for you to seek other help for the underlying reasons for the gambling – if they exist.

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