Grief and addictive behaviours are closely associated. Most of us know that grief can trigger harmful levels of drinking or drug use, but many people are unaware there is also a close relationship between grief and problematic gambling. It’s one of the factors that gambling counsellors look for when they try to understand what led a client to developing a problem related to gambling.
First, a counsellor will ask: “When did your gambling become problematic?”
Then, “Did anything significant change in your life around that time?”
A lot of the time the responses we hear are related to death: My partner died, my friend suicided. Other times, the answers relate to significant life events, mostly related to some kind of loss. Many people need to think about the question at first because they haven’t even made the connection between the loss they’ve experienced and their gambling. For others the answer comes quickly.
Here are some common events that started people on a path to problematic gambling:
- I was made redundant.
- I separated from my partner.
- I was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.
- I retired.
- Our children left home
- I moved to a new town because of my job.
There are several reasons why these types of losses may have put people in a vulnerable position in relation to problem gambling. Commonly, the events have ‘isolated’ them from people and routines that gave their life meaning. Gambling becomes a ‘solution’ that helps them:
- forget or numb the pain they are feeling
- lessen the feeling of isolation
- fill in time or the gaps in their social life.
Unfortunately, over time gambling becomes destructive. People realise they need to learn to solve their problems differently or the gambling only brings new kinds of grief into their lives.
So how can we learn to carry our grief differently and find new ways to solve our problems?
What can help
Counsellors working in the field of grief and loss recognise that loss, suffering and sorrow are unavoidable — even important — aspects of life. People need to mourn and grieve. However, there are two different roads you can take when faced with a loss — you can get a bit lost in despair or sadness over what you have lost, or you can engage with your grief which allows you to adapt and keep moving forward.
Here is a model to help you fully engage with and honour your grief:
- Recognise and name the loss. Moving to a new town will always require change. All children eventually leave home. Jobs come and go. Most loss involves some form of inevitability, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
- Don’t avoid the pain with distractions. Many people find it helpful to talk to others about what they have lost, but if that is not your thing, there are many ways to honour your loss — work on a piece of writing, listen to music, collect photos, drive around your old neighbourhood and visit some of the places you have missed.
- Adjust to an environment that does not include the reason for your loss. Invest your energy in building new relationships and routines that work for you.
- Find an enduring connection with the thing/person you have lost while embarking on a new life. Remember the joys of what you had rather than focusing on your loss.
Remember, you don’t have to do it alone.
If you think that grief is part of the reason you’re struggling with gambling, resources are available:
- Get in touch with Griefline on 1800 845 745, check out their helpful articles and resources, or talk to peers who are also dealing with grief.
- Reach out and talk to a Gambling Help counsellor on 1800 858 858 or chat to us online.
- Talk to your peers about it in the Gambling Help Online community.
We will all deal with grief and loss throughout our lives, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. It takes practice to learn to carry grief constructively. Reaching out to others who understand is a good first step.