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Understanding why people gamble

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

Gambling can be an escape for people who’ve experienced a stressful change in life, like illness or divorce, 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, and it becomes a way for them to cope, it can lead to gambling problems.

Young people aged under 18 and people who’ve grown up in a home with a parent or grandparent with gambling issues have a higher risk than others of developing a gambling addiction.

There are four main reasons why people gamble. This 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 when someone close to you gambles, and how gambling products, companies and venues lure you into gambling more on The Psychology of Gambling playlist on YouTube.

These reasons don’t absolve them 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.

They did not choose to have an early win. They didn’t choose to be depressed. And they don’t realise they have a flawed understanding of how gambling works. Keep this in mind when you find your anger spiralling 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.