It takes courage and commitment to support someone struggling with gambling on their journey to change.
Although you’re an important part of this process, remember it’s your friend or loved one who has to take responsibility for their own gambling.
3 strategies for someone with gambling issues
There are 3 approaches someone can take to make a change: self-help, peer-to-peer support and specialist gambling counselling. But which one works best? The reality is that it will come down to your loved one’s commitment and how serious their issues are.
First, ask yourself:
- Are their issues mild? For example, do they have no debts, or just small and manageable debts?
- Have they had issues with gambling for only a short time, say, less than 6 months?
- Will this be the first time they’ve tried to reduce their gambling?
As a guide, if their issues with gambling are less severe, self-help strategies and peer-to-peer support may work for them. For more serious problems, specialist gambling counselling is more effective.
Self-help works best when people work through self-help books and tools that include tried-and-tested strategies. You’ll find lots of self-help resources on this website, plus videos on the GambleAware NSW Facebook page and YouTube.
If they want to try and limit their gambling rather than quit entirely, they can set gambling budgets and measure how much they spend. Stay on track is a great iPhone app that can help them keep tabs.
There’s also the 100 Day Challenge – a free online tool for anyone who wants to change their relationship with gambling. It’s a flexible program that offers 100 activities to help people resist the urge to gamble and focus their energy on other aspects of life. They can set their own goals and track progress daily. They can also check in with other challengers via the community forum.
2. Peer-to-peer support
Peer support can be an important part of the recovery process. Encouraging your loved one to reach out and discuss their gambling problems with trusted friends can be helpful.
Some people find Gamblers Anonymous is a good way to find the support they need. Meetings are available in most communities.
3. Specialist gambling counselling
If the issues are serious, talking to a specialist counsellor may be the best way to help your loved one regain control and find a clear path.
Specialist gambling counselling can be an insightful experience. Most people are surprised by what they learn about themselves through talking. Although it takes commitment, it’s proven to be an effective way to move forward.
A counsellor may be a good starting point even if the gambling issues don’t seem serious. They can discuss the benefits and challenges of all 3 support strategies with you.
6 facts about gambling counselling
- It’s effective in 65% to 80% of cases, even for heavy, long-term gamblers.
- It’s free.
- It’s confidential.
- It’s quick and easy. Most people see changes after 6 to 8 weekly hour-long sessions.
- It’s provided one on one, with a trained counsellor or psychologist who specialises in treating gambling problems.
- It’s convenient. They can talk over the phone or chat online 24/7, or see someone face to face.
Why counselling may work better than self-help alone
For most people, the hard reality is that dealing with gambling problems on their own is nearly impossible. Gambling is like any other addiction. Willpower alone may not be enough to get them through it. There’s absolutely no shame in reaching out for help. Encourage your loved one to see reaching out as a sign of strength.
Tips to overcome some of the challenges
Gambling can be a powerful addiction. There’s no miracle cure, and you’ll face challenges along the way. If you and your loved one are doing this together, you have work to do.
It takes time. Here are some tips that may help:
- Come up with a shared financial plan. Apart from the practical benefits, following the plan together can help repair trust and self-esteem over time.
- Maintain transparency about finances by organising joint access to bank accounts and credit files.
- Keep the conversation going – about gambling and emotional difficulties more broadly. It just might make your relationship more fulfilling.
Come to terms with lapses and relapses
You’ll need to understand that lapses and relapses are normal parts of the recovery process, and don’t mean the gambler is back at square one. It may help to know the difference between a lapse and relapse:
- A lapse is a one-off gambling episode, not part of a bigger pattern. It’s likely to happen from time to time.
- Relapse, on the other hand, is when someone has gone back to their old patterns of gambling. If there’s a relapse, it doesn’t mean all that hard-won progress was for nothing. It can be faster and easier to come back the second time around.
Taking a realistic perspective makes it more likely that your loved one will continue to be open with you about their gambling.
Someone who’s spent a lot of time gambling may have to deal with boredom when they quit. It helps if they stay busy, have stable employment, meet up with friends regularly and have alternative leisure pastimes.
It’s important for them to find something that makes them feel good about themselves. Re-embracing their role as a responsible parent or caring partner can be a great incentive.
Maybe you can sit down together and make a list of dos and don’ts. For instance, don’t meet up with friends at gambling venues and going to the casino, and do limit seeing friends who gamble for a time.
Manage your emotions
If you know or suspect someone close to you has a gambling problem, it’s normal to experience intense feelings like loss of trust, anger, confusion, fear, frustration and hopelessness. But blame and shame rarely have positive outcomes. If you can deal with your emotions, you’ll be better able to look after yourself and be better equipped to support your loved one to do something positive about their gambling.
None of this is easy to deal with. Make sure you reach out for support for yourself.
- Dealing with hopelessness
Put hopelessness aside. Did you know that gambling addiction is a treatable psychological condition? Studies show that 65% to 80% of gamblers substantially reduce or stop their gambling after treatment. People can and do get better.
- Dealing with anger
You’re entitled to feel angry. Your loved one’s gambling has caused stress and heartache for everyone around them. It might help if you can try to understand what they’re going through. They didn’t choose to have that early win … they didn’t choose to be depressed … they don’t see how their understanding of how gambling works is flawed.
- Managing guilt
You or other family members may blame yourselves or feel guilty for not doing more to prevent the problem. Maybe you think you should have seen it coming or acted sooner. Your loved one may even have told you that you’re to blame for their gambling issues. You are not. It is not your fault they behave in this manner.
- Managing betrayal
It is extremely hurtful to discover that a loved one has been gambling in secret and using shared finances. But it’s important to remember that they didn’t set out to deliberately harm you or their family. In fact, their secrecy may be because they’re afraid of losing or hurting you. They may be looking to solve the financial difficulties their gambling has caused.
Never forget – your safety comes first
If you feel threatened or you don’t feel safe due to another person’s gambling, or you’re concerned about the welfare of your family or children, this is not the time to be offering support. Your safety must come first.
Talk to a counsellor, have a safety plan in place, and call Triple Zero (000) in an emergency.
Your loved one can choose from many free, confidential options, from online chat to face-to-face counselling – even legal and financial assistance.
As an Aboriginal person, you can get support – including culturally appropriate support – anywhere in urban or regional NSW through Warruwi Gambling Help.
Support in other languages
Support is available in over 40 community languages, including 中文 (Mandarin and Cantonese), Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese), عربى(Arabic) and Italiano (Italian).