Gambling problems can happen to anyone from any walk of life. Gambling can go from a fun, harmless diversion to an unhealthy obsession with serious consequences. Whether betting on sports, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slots—in a casino, at the track, or online—a gambling problem can strain your relationships, interfere with work, and lead to financial disaster.
With the lure of online gambling high during COVID-19 lockdown, partners and families of problem gamblers may be the first to see a problem emerging.
Many problem gamblers do not acknowledge their addiction and do not seek help – and that’s when people close to them need support to cope, and potentially even help turn the situation around by motivating a partner to seek help.
“Most people with gambling problems don’t seek formal help, so problems often remain hidden within families,” says Flinders University expert Ben Riley, an expert therapist with the Statewide Gambling Therapy Service.
“As well as evidence-based strategies to help motivate non-help-seeking problem gamblers to acknowledge their problem and seek help, it’s clear we also need effective programs to help partners protect their own wellbeing and perhaps help their partner to seek treatment or targeted interventions.”
Gambling and addiction experts at the Flinders University and Deakin University warn partners and families of such problem gamblers can suffer from chronic worry, exhaustion, relationship conflict, and an overwhelming sense of isolation.
“They may become hypervigilant as a response to a non-disclosing problem gamblers’ activities,” adds co-author Professor Sharon Lawn.
“In our in-depth interviews with 15 such partners, they said they found it exceedingly difficult to reliably detect their partners’ gambling behaviour, resulting in chronic hypervigilance, and many were reluctant to seek help due to stigma,” she says.
“Families are often the first to know something is going on, and they really share the adverse consequences in many ways. Involving families sooner to help identify gambling problems earlier is a missed opportunity.”
Financial harms associated with PG can result in depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and relationship damage, adds Professor Lawn, who separately interviewed 29 electronic gaming machine (pokie) addicts about their gambling habits.
“Many showed frantic, repeated patterns of e-credit withdrawal, which may be typical of gambling while ‘in the zone’ when it is highly likely that the gamblers are not able to make informed decisions about the use of credit.”
The second study says early intervention and perhaps warnings from financial institutions such as banks could help PG problems from extended harm.
More evidence-based intervention programs are also needed to help family members or partners to motivate their loved one to seek help.
“It’s a real gap in knowledge because only a very small proportion of problem gamblers seek help – and that may be only when significant harm has been done to finances, relationships, reputation and employment,” he says.
If your loved one has a gambling problem, you likely have many conflicting emotions. You may have spent a lot of time and energy trying to keep your loved one from gambling or having to cover for them.
While compulsive and problem gamblers need the support of their family and friends to help them in their struggle to stop gambling, the decision to quit has to be theirs. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is seeing the effects, you cannot make someone stop gambling.
However, you can encourage them to seek help, support them in their efforts, protect yourself, and take any talk of suicide seriously. Here are some tips that you can use to help your partner or loved one with their gambling addiction:
1. Start by helping yourself. You have a right to protect yourself emotionally and financially. Don’t blame yourself for the gambler’s problems or let his or her addiction dominate your life. Ignoring your own needs can be a recipe for burnout.
2. Don’t go it alone. It can feel so overwhelming coping with a loved one’s gambling addiction that it may seem easier to rationalize their requests “this one last time.” Or you might feel ashamed, feeling like you are the only one who has problems like this. Reaching out for support will make you realize that many families have struggled with this problem.
3. Set boundaries in managing money. To ensure the gambler stays accountable and to prevent relapse, consider taking over the family finances. However, this does not mean you are responsible for micromanaging the problem gambler’s impulses to gamble. Your first responsibilities are to ensure that your own finances and credit are not at risk.
4. Consider how you will handle requests for money. Problem gamblers often become very good at asking for money, either directly or indirectly. They may use pleading, manipulation, or even threats to get it. It takes practice to ensure you are not enabling your loved one’s gambling addiction.
Find out more about how you can better help your partner or loved one here.
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