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How to talk to someone about their gambling

WATCH: How to have the conversation

If you suspect that someone you know has a problem with gambling, it’s important to help them.

Not doing something could have 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, prepare yourself 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.

Do:

  • Without blaming, tell them how their gambling might be impacting 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.

Avoid:

  • Blaming 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) Encourage them to act by helping themselves, work on it together, try 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.

Helping themselves

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 in their own time.

Suggest they visit our Help Yourself section. which has the following Self-help tools:

100 day challenge logo

100 Day Challenge

100 Day Challenge is a flexible program that offers you 100 alternative activities to help resist the urge to gamble and focus your energy on other aspects of life.

100 Day Challenge
Reset app logo

Reset App

Reset is a free and confidential app that will help you better understand your gambling. Learn how to control gambling urges to successfully stop or reduce your gambling.

Reset app
Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI)

Self-exclusion

Self-exclusion is a free program where you ban yourself from gaming venues or online gambling. Call 1800 858 858 if you need help with this.

Self-exclusion
Your play, your way

YourPlay

YourPlay is a personal gaming card that enables you to track how much money and time you spend at pokies venues throughout Melbourne and Victoria.

YourPlay

Working together

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 and 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. You can revisit these boundaries over time.

To begin with, you could:

  • look at this website together and use the information to work out an 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. Speak with a professional counsellor about 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 e.g. 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 them

It is important to establish new rules and limits on their gambling-related behaviour. You will need to be assertive, so they know you are very serious.

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 them (that will probably get them defensive and achieve little). Focus on the issues at hand and not their past behaviour.

If you feel you will struggle to be assertive, then you may need the help of a counsellor who will act as a mediator. Don’t feel that you have to solve the 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 few activities to re-establish a healthy relationship.

Treatment options

Get immediate, professional help any time, or find a local counselling service. Face-to-face, over the phone or online – we can help.

Visit our Find Support page to see the full range of options available.

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. But it is necessary that the person continues to be open about their gambling and finances with family and/or close friends. It is especially ideal for gambling friends to know what has happened. This way they can help your loved one avoid gambling venues and give them some space.

Who decides who we tell?

You might be tempted to tell people about your loved one's gambling problem, on their behalf. In general, it is better for the person to decide for themselves who they tell. This is not always possible though, particularly if they are in denial. If you feel that you really need to tell others, it’s important to consider the benefits with the potential consequences. These could include damaging the trust and communication you have with your loved one.

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 an 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 or 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.

Visit here for more advice for Families and Friends