Having the conversation
If you suspect that someone you know has a problem with gambling, it’s important for you to help them because there can be significant negative consequences. These can include relationship breakdown, financial problems, loss of employment, and mental health problems, including suicide.
The best way to find out if someone has a gambling addiction is to ask. Make sure you choose a time when you can talk in private and are both calm.
Before you talk to the person, be prepared for the full range of responses you may encounter, from relief through to anger. The person may deny, minimise, rationalise, or lie about their gambling behaviour or they may blame others.
Be aware that they may feel ashamed or embarrassed and may not want to talk.
- Without blaming, tell them how their gambling might be impacting on others.
- Focus on positives and fixes rather than the problems themselves.
- Get them to talk about what might be good about gambling less.
- Let them know you’re asking because you care about them.
- Use the words they use.
- Be vulnerable yourself.
- Ask them, “How bad do things have to get?
- Be patient. This is a process that can take weeks or months.
- Blame them for causing problems for others.
- Label them a problem.
- Lecture: if you keep chipping away at them they won’t hear you.
- Tell them what you would do, unless you’ve overcome addiction.
- Don’t tell them what to do. Come to a solution together.
1) Explain how you feel
Explain what you've noticed, why it concerns you and how it makes you feel. For example, you may have noticed that they:
- have stopped doing activities they used to enjoy.
- have money troubles with other people.
- have more health or stress-related problems.
- are always short of money.
2) Listen to what they have to say
It’s very important to listen to what the person with the gambling issue has to say.
They may say very little or deny there’s a problem as they aren’t ready to talk. They may get angry and tell you to mind your own business. If they deny they have an addiction or get angry, you can:
- ask them to at least think about their gambling.
- ask them to take the test to help work out if their gambling is a problem.
- give them information about where to get help anyway – when they calm down, they just might follow up.
- take a break and agree on another time to talk.
- ask for their perspective, what they’d do in your situation.
- ask them what they think is an appropriate course of action, how they want you to help them.
- give them time to tell their story.
Often, people are relieved to finally talk about their gambling. An honest, non-confrontational discussion can be just what they need to get started on the road to recovery.
3) Encouraging them to act through helping themselves, working on it together, peer support or treatment
Self-help strategies and peer support are more appropriate for people with less severe gambling issues, but they can work. For more severe addiction, professional gambling treatment is recommended. You can have an active role in encouraging your loved one to come to gambling treatment by being informed and asking them the right questions.
Sometimes all they need are self-help tools and gambling information to help them take the first steps.
Use these tips, tools and programs to help them regain control of their gambling, in their own way and their own time.
a) Gambling tips to keep their betting ‘well played’.
b) Self-help tools:
Once you've opened up the conversation, there are many practical ways you can help someone with a gambling problem. Together you can talk about what might work and put actions in place.
Work with the person to agree on acceptable behaviours such as talking to a professional and/or staying within agreed spending limits. Be clear about what you are willing to do to help the person, and what behaviours you will tolerate, although these boundaries can be revisited over time.
To begin with, you could:
- look at this website together and use the information to work out action plan.
- call Gambler's Help together on 1800 858 858 to find out how to get counselling, advice and support.
Because everyone's circumstances are different, the tips below may work for some people but not for others. It's a good idea to speak with a professional counsellor when considering the best approach for you and the person you're concerned about.
a) Managing money
It's likely the person you're concerned about has difficulty handling money when gambling opportunities exist. You could:
- suggest setting a limit of an agreed amount for them to spend on gambling each week.
- help them set up a budget and direct debit for bills.
- plan together how to limit their access to money for a period of time – for example, once bills are paid, you could make sure they have only what they need for food and other essential items.
- look after their credit and EFTPOS cards for them.
The person with a gambling problem may ask you to give or lend them money. If you give them financial help, make sure they get counselling help as well. Be clear that loans must be paid back, even if it's only a small amount each week.
b) Enjoying other activities together
The person who has stopped or reduced their gambling may experience a gap in their life that gambling used to fill eg. reduction in social activities. If this is the case, try to replace someone’s gambling with other activities they enjoy. Think about when they gamble and suggest other fun or social activities, like going to the movies or having a meal together.
Reconnect with family and friends – this social support may also alleviate triggers that can worsen gambling addiction such as anxiety, depression, anger and boredom.
c) Making new arrangements with your partner or family member
It is important to establish new rules and limits relating to your partner or family member’s gambling-related behaviour. You will have to be assertive so that he or she knows that you are very serious about bringing some change to the relationship. Perhaps you will need to practice what you are going to say with a friend or counsellor first. It is not useful to make threats to your partner if both of you know that you will not follow-through.
Do not confront your partner or family member (that will probably get him or her defensive and achieve little). Focus on the issues at hand, and not on his or her past behaviour.
If you feel you will struggle to be assertive with your partner/family member, then you may need the help of a counsellor who will act as a mediator. Don’t feel that you have to solve your problems on your own.
Some of the new rules you may wish to put in place are:
- A complete disclosure of all existing debt and a request that you periodically see all relevant financial statements to be reassured that no further debt is being run-up.
- No more bailing your partner/family member out of his or her gambling debts – some people only stop gambling after they have run out of all means of obtaining money.
- Separate access to finances and limited access to cash and credit for your partner/family member.
- That for a limited period you will manage his or her finances.
- That staying in the relationship and family home is conditional on your partner/family member seeking help and taking part in a number of activities to re-establish a healthy relationship.
Get support from someone who's been there too.
a) Peer connection
Peer Connection matches your friend or family with a volunteer for regular phone contact. Volunteers have dealt with their own gambling addiction or worked through the impact of someone else's, so they know what your loved one is going through.
Peer Connection isn't for people in immediate crisis – call Gambler's Help 24-hour service if you need immediate help. Call Peer Connection on 1300 133 445 or visit peerconnection.org.au
b) Gambling Help Online Forum
Gambling Help Online welcomes anyone affected by gambling to become members of their community. They have tailored areas for people with personal experience as well as family and friends. This is to connect people with similar experiences and foster the most encouraging and useful discussions that matter to these distinct groups.
The forum is a great place to make friends and connect with peers, keep track of you and your loved one’s recovery efforts, be inspired and motivated by others, be liberated, share your strategies and help others.
Get immediate, professional help any time of the day, find a local counselling service or have a regular check in with someone who's been in your or your loved one’s situation. Face-to-face, over the phone or online – we can help.
a) Online support
Gambling Help Online provides anonymous, free, confidential advice and counselling. There's also information online to support your loved one in developing their own strategies for change. Visit Gambling Help Online and select 'Get started'. They'll need to register an email address to get things going.
Gambling Help Online lets them connect and get support in different ways:
Chat live with a counsellor 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
It can be really helpful chatting to a counsellor - speaking to an independent person about their issues can help them look at the situation objectively, particularly if they speak to someone skilled at helping them talk and trained in assessment.
The stigma associated with gambling addiction might make it difficult to seek help but speaking to a professional online can make that step feel less daunting.
Email counselling is great when your loved one need answers to questions but don't need an immediate response. They may prefer this service because they want to make changes on their own and just need to check in with someone, or they may like having time to consider your thoughts and write them down when they have time to sit down and reflect on what they want to say.
b) Phone support
24-hour helplines and professional phone counselling.
Gambler's Help 1800 858 858
Gambler's Help Youthline 1800 262 376
Call now for professional, confidential and free support and advice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Gambler's Help helplines are for anyone affected by gambling – their own, or someone else's. We can refer you to local services and send you information.
Calls are free from landlines. Calls form mobiles may be charged. If your loved one is deaf or have a hearing or speech impairment contact us through the National Relay Service.
Local Gambler's Help services offer phone counselling by appointment, including outside office hours. Contact your local service to discuss this option with them.
c) Face-to-face counselling
We offer free, confidential information, advice and counselling to anyone affected by gambling in Victoria.
Our trained counsellors are here to help you and your loved one. We understand what you're going through and can help you find ways to deal with your problems and support you and your friend or family for as long as you need. Our counselling services also extend to the family and friends of those who gamble.
Local Gambler's Help providers offer face to face and phone counselling by appointment, giving you greater choice.
Gambler's Help services are available in over 100 locations across Victoria. Some locations may be available by appointment only. Please contact your local Gambler's Help service to find the nearest location to you.
In-language counselling services are available for Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese speaking communities, and some other languages by request.
Sharing your situation with others
Who do you tell?
Balancing your desire for being honest and open about what's happened, with your loved one’s need for privacy, may be difficult. It is generally desirable for the person recovering from the gambling addiction to continue being totally open about their gambling and finances with family and maybe close friends. But this needn’t apply to everyone in their lives. On the other hand, it’s probably a good idea for gambling friends to know what has happened, so that they can assist your loved one in avoiding gambling venues, and understand if your loved one needs some space.
Who decides who we tell?
Importantly, you might be tempted to tell people about your family member or friend’s gambling problem, on their behalf. In general, though, it is desirable for the person with the gambling issue to decide for themselves who they tell about it. This is not always possible though, particularly if they are in denial. If you feel that you need to tell others about your loved one’s gambling, it’s important to consider the benefits of doing so with the potential consequences, which could include damaging trust and communication with your family member or friend.
Dealing with negative reactions
If your loved one is denying that they have a gambling issue, to you, or themselves, beating them over the head with it is unlikely to get them talking.
If we want our family member or friend to open up to us about their addiction to gambling, we need to create a safe space, in which our loved one knows that we are there to support them, rather than to blame and/or judge them.
Your conversations about gambling will be more fruitful if you’re able to manage your anger, and create a relatively open atmosphere in which to discuss gambling. We know that this is often difficult to do. But the anger itself will not solve the problem. It is justified to feel angry, but making critical comments, belittling him or her, and constantly nagging and blaming him or her for being in a difficult financial position may be counterproductive. Express your emotions by stating that you are disappointed and angry at his or her behaviour but that you want to work together to regain control over the situation.
If they don’t want to talk
If the person does not want to talk about it, you can tell them that gambling help is available and that you are willing to talk when they are ready. If the conversation becomes unproductive of aggressive, you should end the discussion and try again at another time.
If they don’t want to change/denial
Although it may be obvious to those around them, the person may not see their gambling as a problem until they experience a crisis that they cannot solve themselves. They may also go through cycles of awareness and denial.
If the person does not want to change, you should sensitively ask if gambling and its consequences are getting in the way of the life they want to live.
Let them know you will be ready to help them when they are ready to change their behaviour.
Interventions should be a last resort. If this is required, do it in a way that helps the person feel supported and cared for rather than punished or shamed.