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How to support a family member who is struggling with gambling

By: Samuel Ma (Clinical Psychology Registrar) & Dr Anastasia Hronis (Clinical Psychologist)

Do you have a family member experiencing difficulties with gambling?

You are in a unique position to provide assistance, support and help start recovery. Although this can often be a challenging process, family support makes an enormous difference. Below are some ideas of how you can help.

First, encourage a discussion with your family member around gambling concerns. This will cultivate a sense of connection and openness. Actively listen to their thoughts, experiences and feelings, and try to do so in a non-judgmental way. While you may not have the same experiences or perspectives on matters relating to gambling, listening without passing strong opinions or judgement will help them feel heard and supported.

Problematic gambling often creates psychological distress, financial pressure and relationship changes. It may therefore be beneficial to discuss triggers for gambling, so that both you and your loved one have a greater awareness of what their triggers may be. These may include specific events, social environments, emotions, times of the day, or people.

Second, consider helping to create a healthy environment for your family member’s gambling recovery. You can encourage help-seeking through free and confidential, professional support services like Gambler’s Help.

Reaching out to your General Practitioner and obtaining a Mental Health Care Plan could also be helpful. As a family member, you could offer to attend an initial appointment with your loved one to mitigate stigma and offer support.

Once your family member has received support, understand that improvement is a non-linear process and lapses are a common component of recovery. Support your loved one to utilise strategies from professional supports and provide a secure financial environment (e.g., not loaning money, seeking financial advice) where necessary.

Finally, family members should actively engage in self-care themselves. Research tells us that a person experiencing significant problems with gambling can affect up to six other people around them, with moderate-risk gamblers affecting up to three others, and low risk gamblers affecting one other person in their life. Treat yourself with compassion if you notice you are being affected by the gambling behaviours of someone else.

Check out our resources for families of people living with mental health or gambling concerns. Engage in your own self-care actively through socialisation, prioritising a healthy lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep), and seeking professional support for yourself where necessary.

Although support is valuable, recognise that gambling is the responsibility of your family member. In the long term, this provides them with a sense of autonomy and agency. Above all, recall that your family member is defined by more than their experiences with gambling. Their values, relationships, and passions remain, and with support these can be prioritised once again.

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

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