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Understanding why people gamble

Someone may start gambling for fun and have some early wins. Then they keep playing in the hope they’ll win again and experience the same good feelings. However, when they lose, particularly big losses, the cycle of compulsive gambling can begin.

Gambling can be an escape for people who’ve experienced a stressful change in life. Or who want to forget about life’s worries, such as relationship issues or money troubles. Others may start gambling on the pokies because they’re lonely and crave company.

When people turn to gambling at vulnerable times in their lives to cope, it can lead to gambling problems.

People who’ve grown up in a home with a parent or grandparent that has gambling issues, have a higher risk of developing a gambling addiction.

There are four main reasons why people gamble. These might help you understand how gambling can become addictive and why it’s hard to stop. You can also learn about what goes on in the brain, and how gambling products, companies and venues can lure you into gambling more here: The Psychology of Gambling playlist on YouTube.

These reasons don’t absolve the person gambling of responsibility, but they do provide a better understanding of what motivates your loved one to keep gambling and why it has become a problem.

Remember, your loved one did not choose to have an early win. They didn’t choose to become addicted. And they likely don’t realise how gambling works. Keep this in mind if you find your anger spiraling out of control.

Remind yourself that they did not develop their compulsion to gamble to spite or deliberately hurt you. And in reality, their misguided secrecy is in part motivated by a fear of losing or hurting loved ones. What’s more, their continued gambling is often motivated by an unrealistic desire to bail themselves and their families out of financial difficulties.

This is a cruel irony, because gambling is often the very source of their financial difficulties and not the solution. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that they didn’t set out to harm you or your family.

Here are some additional resources and information which may be helpful before you have the conversation:

Familiarise yourself with the effective treatments available for gambling addiction and encourage them to seek the most appropriate type of help for them.

Familiarise yourself with the local resources available to help people with gambling addiction, so that when you are talking with the person you can tell them about these.

Here are some real life stories of people who’ve opened up and talked about the effects they were experiencing and got the support they needed.

Because financial problems can be a big part of gambling, you should be aware of the tips that can help the person to manage their financial difficulties.

When you’re ready, here are some tips on how to have the conversation with your loved one about their gambling behaviour.