It can be hard to tell if someone is facing harm from gambling, as physical and other symptoms are not always very obvious. but there are some signs that can be useful indicators. There are certain circumstances that prevent a gambler, and those around them from seeing the whole picture. You can take a look through this checklist to get a better idea of whether someone close to you may be facing harm from gambling.

It can feel emotionally stressful to have a friend or family member affected by gambling.

In the ACT, as a friend or family member you can get free counselling support from the ACT Gambling Counselling and Support Service (1800 858 858) or Gambling Help Online. Professional support can help you understand your friend/family member’s gambling problem better and what role you can play to help support them, while keeping yourself healthy.

Having A Conversation About Someone’s Gambling

“Be there for them….The person has to want to help themselves. Learn about addiction….that is the most important part.”

Empathy and acceptance

It is important to remember that a person may be feeling a lot of guilt, shame and embarrassment, and so being as understanding and empathetic as you can, will help. Being accepting of the person, and creating a safe non-judgemental space and listening to them and letting them know you care is really important. Communicate your feelings carefully and openly. Let them know you are willing to help.

Understanding the gambling problem

It helps to understand that gambling is the problem, not the person. The person is likely to have parts of them that want to gamble, and other parts that don’t. Understanding that it is not so easy to simply stop gambling, and understanding more about addiction will help you be able to support your friend.

Having a conversation

When talking with a friend, it can be helpful to start off the conversation with a connecting statement – which is a truthful statement about something positive between you and the other person that makes you both feel connected and positive about your relationship. For example, “I really care about you and what happens to us and because of that I feel have to talk about what I’ve been noticing.”  Talk about what you are feeling; describe the behaviour that makes you feel this way and the reasons for this. Try avoid statements that might be interpreted as blaming or accusatory like “you should” or “you must”. This can cause a person to become defensive or angry and could create a bigger communication barrier. Ask for the person’s thoughts and feedback. This allows them to discuss their perspective  – and shows you care and are willing to listen. Listen carefully to what they have to say and repeat back to them your understanding of what they said.  This can help the person to feel understood.

Letting go of control and burden

Avoid trying to take control of the gambler’s life and forcing them to stop. It isn’t possible and it is likely to make you both unhappy. Try to relate to them as an equal and avoid trying to protect them. The only person who can stop gambling is the gambler. Know that you are not to blame for their behaviour. You can support them, but don’t need to take on their burden. Make sure you look after yourself (see tips below).

Approaching a friend about their gambling

All participants that we interviewed in our research who were facing harm from gambling and had talked to someone else about it said that when that other person was coming from a place of understanding that made a significant positive difference. A person will respond differently depending on their emotional state at the time you approach them. Many of our research participants admitted that if a friend approached them about their gambling when they were caught up in the moment, it is possible they could be angry, evasive or dishonest. In many cases, our participants said that even though they might react strongly, it would be helpful for the topic to be brought up. A person’s response will depend on a number of factors, including their level of recognition of their problem and the stage of change they are at.  It is important to remember that if your friend does react strongly that they may be feeling very defensive. As they will be feeling strong emotions they may say some things that don’t really mean. It is important to keep yourself safe and make sure you keep strong boundaries.

“I suppose if friends had told me repeatedly that I had a problem then maybe I would have reached that realisation sooner. Initially you’d get angry and it’s a defence mechanism to shut it out, but later on when you are processing thoughts, well you should reflect on everything that has happened…so that’s something that should stick with you.”

Some tips on looking after yourself:

  • Try and set clear boundaries and limits with your friend.
  • Make sure you have support through friends and family for yourself.
  • Try your best to look after your own wellbeing and health.
  • Consider seeking professional support yourself (you can get free support from the ACT Counselling and Support Service).
  • If you live with the person and share finances, create a realistic budget and keep good records of all financial transactions.  Keep a check on the mail for unexpected bills and withdrawals.
  • Avoid inheriting the gambler’s debt.  Remove your name from joint accounts.
  • Avoid signing anything you don’t understand or are not prepared to pay for.
  • Avoid lending EFTPOS or credit cards, sharing pin numbers or leaving that information where it can be easily accessed.
  • Get as much information as you can about the financial situation before making any decisions.
  • Don’t take responsibility for someone else’s debt by signing as a co-borrower or guarantor on loans.  If you are thinking about this it is essential to get financial and/or legal advice first.

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