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Communication is key – how to have the tough conversations

By: Georgia Ashworth (psychologist) and Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)

Like most things in life, struggling with gambling can be made more manageable with the support of friends and family. Research shows that having social support significantly increases the ability to manage or abstain from gambling, and helps to maintain hard earned gains. However, surrounding yourself with supportive people often means having some pretty difficult conversations, and sitting with the uncomfortable feelings that come along the way. Whilst our normal human response is to avoid situations that cause anxiety and fear, there are a number of ways that having these conversations can be made easier and more effective.

Firstly, it is important to have a plan of what you would like to share with others. Think about what information you think would be helpful for others to know. This could include:

  • how long you’ve had difficulties with gambling;
  • how often you gamble;
  • and the types of gambling you struggle with (e.g. online gambling, sports betting, poker machines).

Additionally, it could be helpful to let loved ones know about:

  • your intentions and goals, whether you’re wanting to stop completely or reduce your gambling;
  • what your triggers are;
  • and how you plan to work on your gambling, including any treatments or programs you might be engaging with.

Loved ones may be interested in how they can help, so it would be useful to think carefully about what you need from them. This could include:

  • regular check-ins and a commitment to being honest with each other;
  • practical support, e.g., planning events at venues without gambling, and/or help with setting and keeping to gambling limits.

Whilst being open and honest is important, be sure to consider what you don’t feel comfortable sharing, or what wouldn’t be helpful. This is a personal choice and will likely depend on who you’re speaking with. It’s important to remember that you have a right to privacy and only need to share what will be helpful.

When planning the conversation, there are several things to consider, including:

  • where? A private, comfortable space is best, where each person feels they can share openly
  • when? Set aside a fair amount of time, as these conversations shouldn’t be rushed
  • how will others respond? Expect questions, and remember to listen to what others are saying as they come to understand the situation
  • what will you do afterwards? Consider rewarding yourself for having the conversation or planning how you might like to unwind.

And finally, a few helpful ways to start the conversation might include:

‘As important people in my life, I wanted to share with you that I’ve been struggling with gambling.’

‘Gambling has become a problem for me, and I’d like to talk about it with you.’

‘I’ve been having a hard time lately and wanted to speak with you about it, would that be ok?’

For more support on this topic or any gambling issue you might want to talk about, call Gambler’s Help 1800 858 858.

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