Starting the conversation

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Start the conversation

Getting a conversation going is one of the most important things you can do.

It’s the first step to your friend or family member opening up and acknowledging that they’re struggling. There are strategies you can try.

First, test the water

Here are some thoughts that may help:

  • Leave brochures about gambling and gambling treatment around the house where they can be easily picked up.
  • Regularly and patiently let them know that you’re genuinely interested in talking to them about their behaviour. Ask open questions.
  • Talk about gambling in a more general sense. For example:
    “I’ve been doing some reading about gambling harm lately ...”
  • There are lots of videos on the GambleAware NSW Facebook page and on YouTube that you might want to take a look at or get your loved one to watch. A great starting point is You’re Stronger Than You Think. It has a positive message and spells out the importance of seeking help for gambling problems.

They won’t open up to you or anyone else if they don’t feel they’re in a safe space, where they know they’ll be supported rather than blamed or judged.

Think carefully about the words you use

You may be justified in feeling angry, but making critical or belittling comments, nagging and blaming your loved one for the difficult financial position they’ve put themselves (and you and their family) in, may be counterproductive. It could even be dangerous.

Instead, say you’re disappointed and angry at their behaviour, but make sure they know you want to work with them to regain control over the situation. They won’t open up to you or anyone else if they don’t feel they’re in a safe space. They need to know they’ll be supported rather than blamed or judged.

Once you begin, be patient and listen carefully. While they’re talking, try not to interrupt – you don’t want them to stop or get defensive. It’s important for you to be calm and caring, but be careful not to allow them to make excuses for their gambling.

Some basic principles
  • Express facts, thoughts and feelings without placing blame.
  • Use “I” not “you” statements.
  • Show that you’re listening.
  • Be understanding.
  • Plan your responses, and think about how they may react.

“I’ve noticed you’ve been a little down lately. Are you okay?”

“What’s been going on for you? Is there anything I can do to help?”

I’ve noticed you gambling a lot recently. It’s really starting to make me worry.”

You know you’re my friend and I care about you a lot. That’s why I’m saying this. I’m upset because I’ve seen you do some really risky things.”

I can see you’re not happy right now, and that upsets me. I want to help.”

You know I love you. I don’t want to see you hurt yourself. Talk to me about what’s going on.”

This can be challenging. If it is safe to do so, see if these strategies work:

  • Validate their anger.
    “I can see that this is really affecting you.”
  • Let them know that getting angry is ok, but getting aggressive isn’t
    “You have every right to feel angry, but I can’t accept your shouting or your threats.”
  • Let them know how their aggression affects you.
    “When you shout at me I feel hurt and disrespected.”
  • Encourage them to express their emotions more constructively.
    “I would really like to continue to discuss this as calmly as possible. I’m interested in why you feel this way and would like you to tell me more about it.”

What if they refuse to talk?

If your loved one denies they have an issue with gambling – to you or to themselves – it’s not up to you to make them talk or take action. Pushing it could just make the situation worse for you. Moving forward is a process that can take weeks or months.

Whatever happens, look after yourself and do what you need to do to keep yourself and your family safe.

Talking to a young person about gambling

Having a conversation with a child or teenager about gambling may go a little differently, but it’s an important discussion for you both to have.

For free, confidential advice and support, call GambleAware on 1800 858 858 and arrange to talk to a counsellor near you.

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GambleAware acknowledges Aboriginal people as the traditional custodians of the land and we pay respects to Elders past, present and emerging. GambleAware is an inclusive support service.
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