This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.
Partners, family members and friends often ring the Gambling Helpline (1800 858 858) wanting advice about how to talk to their loved ones about their gambling. Many times they want to talk about how to begin the conversation.
Other times the family member or significant other admits gambling has been an ongoing discussion topic that, from the caller’s point of view, goes nowhere.
Some of the common issues for the callers who have had several attempts at a conversation are:
- The person who is gambling blocks the conversation:
‘As soon as I start talking about his gambling, he shuts down and won’t talk to me. I never get anywhere’.
- The person who is the gambler gets angry:
‘We are all too scared to talk to her about her gambling because she goes ballistic whenever we mention it. We’ve learned just to accept it and not say anything’.
There may be good reasons for this kind of reaction, and it is all about the feelings that come up for a person who is having a gambling problem. Often when they are approached about gambling, they will have intense feelings of shame, embarrassment and frustration, which then cause them to either internalise (shut down and refuse to talk about it) or externalise (start becoming angry and aggressive).
Both of these communication styles are understandable ways of responding to something which is the source of such strong emotions, especially if they result in people leaving them alone afterwards and not raising the issue again. However, they also result in the issue not getting discussed. The person is often so overwhelmed with these emotions that they never have a conversation about their gambling, and nothing changes. As a loved one, you may not want to upset them further and may even be afraid about getting the same response next time.
When a person with gambling problems has a realisation about the magnitude of the impacts of their gambling on themselves and those around them they can become distressed. This distress is often fuelled by shame, guilt and frustration at not being able to stop gambling.
People are much less likely to have an open conversation when they are feeling cornered and ashamed – they will be overwhelmed and likely not be able to take anything in and think clearly about their need to begin to acknowledge their gambling problems.
One way of managing this issue is to try and engage with the person in a way that helps them feel calm and understood.
Here are a few tips about starting the conversation with a loved one who you are concerned about:
Write down some points that you want to discuss beforehand. That way if you become upset or emotional you can refer back to them to make sure you are getting your point across.
Choose a quiet environment to talk to them about their gambling – somewhere you are unlikely to be disturbed and where they feel comfortable.
Instead of telling them what you think, ask a lot of questions about their gambling. Try to get a sense of what it is like for them and what it is they are getting from gambling.
Acknowledge this conversation may be emotional for both of you.
Avoid criticisms or accusations – your aim is to get your loved one to talk about their gambling and figure out themselves what needs to change.
If you have any questions about this approach or if you would like some further advice or support from a gambling counsellor, please give us a call on 1800 858 858.
Increasingly people are reaching out for help because online gambling is adversely affecting their lives. Here are some of the reasons for this and what you can do to try and reduce or stop gambling online.
If you feel that online gambling is affecting your life, you are not alone. Need a hand straight away? You can start chatting to a counsellor right away.
Why are more people gambling online?
Smartphones and other portable internet-enabled devices, plus the proliferation of online gambling websites are making really easy to gamble no matter where you are, and without some of the checks and balances that have existed with traditional gambling outlets.
The companies that set up online gambling sites rely on the fact that they are so easy to access day and night. They use science to make them as addictive as possible, enacting parts of the brain that release feel-good chemicals like dopamine every time you “win’ or have a “near win’, this coupled with the ease of access even when trying to abstain can make it difficult to move away from the temptation.
Debts can easily spiral because of the distance between money and reality, once you have put in your card details it may not feel like you have spent a lot of money until they realise when they look at their bank account. At times the money doesn’t feel real, more like the money in a board game than something they have hard to earn through hard work.
Need a helping hand?
Mike* called for help after a recent relapse triggered by an online advertisement.
I thought it was ok if I gambled with free credits, as I wasn’t really spending anything. I started to win big playing free online casino games and convinced myself that spending a few of my own dollars would be ok!
I soon got hooked back into gambling but this time it was online. I had avoided the hotels for several months and was so pleased with myself. It’s so hard to resist the temptation to gamble when it's on my phone and computer at work and home.
Even though he was already in recovery, he found that reaching out and admitting his relapse was p[particularly difficult as he felt ashamed that he had been drawn back into gambling. But said that once he chatted to one of our counsellors he felt immediate relief.
The counsellor provided him with a few simple steps to reduce his gambling and an appointment to see a free counsellor who specialises in gambling-related issues.
How can I change?
If you are struggling with online gambling here are a few things you can try to curb or stop your online gambling:
- Self Exclusion – check out some of the options for excluding online
- Keep your money safe – limit your access to cards that could be linked to online gambling sites
- Opt out, unsubscribe or block email addresses that will send you
- Avoid the temptation, limit your access to the internet until you feel you can manage
- Put your phone away or downgrade your phone to one that doesn’t have the internet
- Find other activities that stimulate and engage you – exercise, sports, craft, socialising, cooking etc.
Need a hand with making a change to your gambling? You can chat to one of our counsellors anytime - get started.
Finding creative activities that you enjoy can be an excellent way of keeping on track when you are making a change to your gambling. This is Audrey’s* story, whose renewed love of making things has helped get her back on track.
Some of the creative pieces Audrey has made: Source - Supplied
Audrey had been gambling for just over 15 years on the pokies, and came to see that it was impacting on not only her finances, but her relationship with her family, and also caused her anxiety.
The financial impact of her gambling started to become apparent, a lot of her and her husbands savings had been spent on the on pokies after work.
“Over a period of time it had become a routine to go and gamble after work, on top of the financial impact it had also pulled me away from spending quality time with my son, and hobbies that I used to love.” says Audrey
Making a change
Once Audrey realised the impact gambling was having on her she sought help. Slowly but surely, Audrey and her counsellor worked at identifying what triggered to gamble, her motivations and how to break the cycle.
One thing that really helped Audrey is her willingness to try and incorporate new activities, and restart old ones that provided a sense of fulfilment that gambling wasn’t giving her.
Furniture that Audrey reupholstered to brighten up the garden: Source - Supplied
Audrey rediscovered her passion in making things, and joined a glass making group and refurbishing furniture.
Within two months of working with a counsellor Audrey has ceased gambling, and has remained abstinent. She says “I feel more in control, and am spending more time with family and friends.”
Interested in finding an creative alternative to gambling? Speak to one of our counselors today.
Peer pressure can come in many forms and may cause you to engage in behaviour that goes against your wishes, best judgement or plans. For example when a friend, colleague or family member who encourages you to gamble when you have made a promise to yourself that you will not.
Peer pressure can be subtle or not so subtle. It can be a constant niggle “come on, one more bet won’t break the bank” to words that can feel more threatening to your sense of self or to your membership of a group.
Giving in to peer pressure can initially relieve the immediate discomfort of feeling pressured but cause you further problems which are even harder to overcome.
What does it feel like?
Many people call us describing having given in to peer pressure and gambled against their better judgement. One of our counsellors recounted the following experience:
One caller was dismayed that after 10 months of being strong and not gambling he succumbed to peer pressure when he joined his colleagues for a get together after work, which turned into a session of gambling on the races.
This lapse unfortunately resulted in a period of continued gambling, plus financial and relationship problems. Trying to regain control by himself proved difficult, especially because he wanted to continue to be able to have drink with work colleagues. So he sought help from one of the counsellors at the helpline and he got the help he needed to get back on track.
How to manage
Managing peer pressure can be difficult and it is important to have some strategies to help you not be tempted. These strategies also let the “urgers” know want to maintain your resolutions – to not gamble for instance.
Some strategies you could try:
- Recognising it can be difficult to say no to peer pressure especially when in a social situation. If you start to find the pressure to gamble difficult to resist, it may be better to excuse yourself and leave.
- Learn how to say no, have a plan about how you will respond if people encouraging you to gamble. Responses like “Nah it’s a waste of money” “Not tonight I am a bit short” “Promised the wife/husband I wouldn’t”. Are some good examples. For some more inspiration check out this article.
- Be firm and clear about your decision not to gamble and explain your reasons if you feel able and if this helps support your decision. Most people just want to fit in. Sometimes people put pressure on themselves to fit into their social group. Don’t feel like you must change your mind or feel guilty about doing what is best for you.
- Consider if putting yourself in a certain situation is the right thing to do at the moment. If you are constantly feel pressured, maybe you need to consider a new social network with people who have similar values and interests as you if the pressure to gamble does not cease
- Reading about other peoples experiences and sharing your own experience can really help. You could join an in-person support group or an online community and see how others have managed peer pressure. Why not join our forum find out more here.
- Chat or talk to a counsellor, you can chat to one of our counsellors online by signing up here or you can speak to someone on the Helpline 1800 858 858
This blog article first appeared on Counsellor Sam and has been republished with full permission.
With the holidays just around the corner, many of us will be looking forward to relaxing and taking time off. However, Christmas can be a difficult time for many as it can be expensive and often daunting with many expectations including buying presents, attending social events and meeting family obligations.
If you are struggling with a gambling problem, or are in the early stages of recovery, this could be an extra tricky time for you. We’ve put together a list of tips that may help you to manage things over the Christmas break and start the New Year in a good state of mind.
Problem – Financial Stress
Many people find over the Christmas period, they are low on money due to buying Christmas presents, having time off work or spending money on holiday festivities.
Financial pressure is a major trigger for gambling. For example, a gambler may often remember the big wins and then convince themselves this is their only solution to the money problem. Unfortunately, when this happens it’s easy to dismiss or forget all those other times money was lost. This irrational decision to gamble could result in more financial hardship impacting further on the demands of Christmas. Here is a quote from Rachel*, a caller to the Gambling Helpline: who tried to win big to give her children their Christmas wishes but resulted in a poor outcome:
‘It was leading up to Christmas and I knew I only had about $200 to spend on presents for my kids. All I could think of was their faces on Christmas when they realised I couldn’t get them the presents they had asked for. I got it into my head that, if I could only double my money on the pokies, I could get them all the things they wanted, and have some left over. Of course, I ended up losing all of it.’
Solution – Plan Ahead
Unfortunately there is no magic wand we can wave to make money problems go away. But when we talk to people who have very few money troubles, it seems that their secret is often to do with planning.
Having a plan for Christmas means that you can reduce your levels of stress during this time. Gamblers Help services offer free financial counselling, which can involve sitting down with an experienced financial counsellor and making a budget and spending plan. Here is Rachel again:
‘I had a great financial counsellor Pam, who took me through what was coming in each week and what I was spending. She helped me to budget for holiday season so my kids did not miss out. Taking away the financial stress meant that I had one less reason to gamble. It was great talking to someone to help me make rational decisions about what I could afford.’
Problem – Family Stress
The holidays are a time for families, however sometimes this can also be the source of tension and unhappiness. It is not uncommon for people to relapse over the holidays because spending time with their families brings up difficult emotions and unresolved issues.
For other people, they may feel lonely over this time, if they do not have close relatives or friends to spend the time with.
For many people gambling is a way to try to temporarily escape from these issues, but as we know it often makes things worse. Here is a quote from Nick*, a client from Gamblers Help who struggled over the Christmas period but on reflection realises he needs to reach out for support to have a plan to deal with this difficult time:
‘I go and visit my family in Queensland each year, over Christmas. I had never realised but the combination of having free time, and being under the same roof as my parents again, meant that I was gambling almost nonstop. I felt quite low over that time and wanted to have something to take my mind off things. I now realise it’s not the answer and seeking help is important to manage this difficult time.’
Solution – Self Care
It’s clear Christmas is a risk time when people may use gambling to manage difficult emotions like frustration, anger, or loneliness. However, there are many other ways to do this that don’t involve gambling.
They are called ‘emotional regulation’ strategies and can be great at helping to pick you up when you are feeling anxious or unhappy.
Here are a few simple strategies that might help over this time:
- Exercise – even a short walk alone, away from company, can provide some time for reflection and relieve stress.
- Reduce alcohol consumption – have some alcohol-free days and replacing alcoholic drinks with water or juice can help with your mood and not cloud your judgement.
- Take some time to yourself – schedule a day or two to spend on yourself, whether it be preparing for the New Year or pursuing a hobby. Even writing down some thoughts can be helpful in topping up your emotional resources.
- Get social – if you are feeling lonely call a friend for a Christmas reunion or contact a local community centre where Christmas activities are provided for local residents to come together and celebrate.
Talking to a trained counsellor during this holiday season can help you to feel more in control and give you a different perspective on things. Call the Helpline on 1800 858 858 for some free and confidential support.
We often hear from clients that the most stressful part of Christmas is how to manage their money during this potentially expensive time of year. However there are some ways that you can look after yourself, so that you don’t get caught up in the spending cycle during the holidays.
Being prepared and limiting your access to money may help you keep control of any temptation to gamble and reduces the likelihood of gambling at the spur of the moment.
Try and follow some of these simple tricks to keep you on track these holidays:
- Track Your spending by creating a budget and revisit it often, to make sure you’re spending within your means over the holidays
- Think about what you need and what you can afford
- Make a little extra room for things that may come out of the blue, hold some money in an emergency fund.
- Make sure you pay all your bills and necessities before you spend extra money on the festive season, this will help you make sure you haven’t overstretched.
- Before you buy the little treat or “extra” for yourself, be sure it’s really worth the price. Be careful of holiday sales this can be an opportunity to save money on something you really need, but would you have bought it in the first place? Be a bit careful.
The use of gift vouchers can help provide some independence for you so you go shopping and buy the necessities without the risk of having access to your money and gambling. Sometimes you can even get gift vouchers with a percentage off which gives you a small saving before you have even started your shopping.
If you are concerned about your willpower, you may ask someone you can trust to look after your cash or credit card. Especially if you know you’re going into a high risk situation over the festive season such as Christmas lunch in a gambling venue.
Remember is not about what you spend, but the time you spend together. If you need a hand we are here 24/7, 365 days a year!