Are you ready to have a conversation with your family member or friend?
Talking to your family member or friend about their gambling with kindness and empathy can help them to think about how it’s affecting their life. This can help them reflect on their gambling, as well as to start thinking about change or find ways to change. You can also be there to help them get help if they need it. But some people find it hard to have the conversation with their family member or friend. There are things that you can do to make them feel more comfortable and open to talking about their gambling.
How can you have the conversation?
To have a productive conversation with your family member or friend about their gambling, the first step is to make them feel comfortable and safe. Instead of blaming or judging them, try to create a supportive environment in which they can talk openly without feeling attacked. When they feel safe, they’re more likely to share their thoughts and feelings, which can then lead to finding solutions together. Some tips:
- Let them know you’re talking to them because you care about them
- Explain what you’ve noticed, why you’re concerned and how it makes you feel
- Tell them how their gambling is impacting you or other people
- Separate the person from the behaviour – the behaviour is harmful, not the person
- Be kind and patient
- Where you feel comfortable to do so, allow yourself to be vulnerable so that they feel it is safe to talk to you
- Remain calm
- Manage your own emotions as best as you can
- Recognise that they are showing trust by confiding in you
- Recognise the achievement of them sharing their experiences
- Thank them for their honesty
- Listen carefully to what they have to say
- Give them enough time to tell their story without interrupting
- Use the words that they use so they feel heard and understood
- Normalise and validate their experience
- Focus on the positives about them
- Focus on solutions rather than problems
- Provide hope for recovery
- Offer to help them by working together rather than telling them what to do
- Encourage them to help themselves or seek support
What are some strategies you could use?
Take a look at these specific strategies to see which of them might suit you best.
Starting the conversation on a positive note can make your family member or friend feel more comfortable and open to talking about their gambling. You can begin by expressing how much they mean to you and pointing out their strengths. A connecting statement, which is a positive statement about something that you both share, can also help to start the conversation. For instance, you can say, "I really care about you and our relationship, and I feel it's important to talk about what I've been noticing." If you feel uneasy about having this conversation, it's okay to let them know. This can also show them that you care and want to support them.
Using "I" statements means you are sharing your personal feelings and observations related to their gambling instead of blaming or accusing them. Instead of saying "You make me look like a fool when I get to the supermarket checkout and there’s no money left in the account”," you can say "I feel worried about our financial future and I become stressed every time I go to the supermarket checkout, as I’m not sure if there will be any money left in the account." This way, you’re expressing how their actions affect you personally and allowing them to understand the impact of their behaviour on those around them.
The LUV technique is a helpful way to have a more effective conversation with your family member or friend about their gambling. It stands for Listen, Understand, and Validate.
- First, you should listen carefully to what they are saying without judging or interrupting them. You can repeat back what they say to show that you are paying attention.
- Next, try to understand their point of view by giving them time to explain their story and by asking questions to clarify.
- Finally, validate their emotions by acknowledging how they feel, even if you don't necessarily agree with them. This can help them feel heard and understood which can lead to a more productive conversation.
Many people who experience gambling harm feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk about their gambling. When someone has hidden their gambling for a long time by keeping it secret and lying about it, it can feel strange and uncomfortable for them to start talking about it openly and honestly. This is why it’s best to avoid blaming, lecturing, or criticising them because this can create resistance and defensiveness. Instead, it's better to create a safe and non-judgmental space for them to reflect on their gambling and how it may be impacting them and the people they care about.
What if the person reacts negatively?
It can be helpful to prepare yourself for different reactions when you talk to your family member or friend about their gambling. Being prepared will help you manage your own emotional response and maintain control of the conversation. They might appreciate the opportunity to talk and feel relieved that someone cares. However, they might also react negatively, becoming angry, defensive, or deny any problems. They might also try to justify or minimise their behaviour or even blame others for it.
It’s also normal for your family member or friend to have mixed feelings about changing their gambling. They may not even realise that they experience any harm from it or may not be ready to change. They may also feel nervous about seeking help. Check out our information on Stages of Change for more information about how people become ready to change and Seeking Support for more information about some of the barriers that some people experience in seeking help.
It can be difficult and emotional if your family member or friend doesn't want to talk or change their gambling. Ultimately, however, it's up to them to make the decision to seek change or seek help. Making changes can take time, but you can help by being patient and supportive. Even if your family member or friend isn't ready to take action, having an open conversation and providing information can still be helpful in the long run. You can try:
- asking them to think about gambling
- asking them if they will take a quiz to help them work out if their gambling is harmful
- asking for their perspective on what they might do in your situation
- asking them what they think is the best way forward or how you could help them
- letting them know that you are willing to talk when they are ready
- providing them with information about gambling to reflect on in their own time
- providing them with information about how to get help if or when they feel ready
The most important thing is to continue talking with them about their gambling and letting them know that you’re there to support them. If they don't want to talk about it right now or aren't ready to make changes, check in with them again later. This will let them know that they can come to you when they are ready.
If the conversation becomes unproductive or aggressive, it is best to end it. Discussions about gambling can sometimes lead to concerns about your safety.
- If you need immediate help, call emergency services on 000
- 1800Respect, the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service offers information and support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call 1800 737 732.
Supporting someone who is struggling with gambling can be difficult and requires both courage and commitment. While you can play an important role in their journey to change, try to remember that you can’t force someone to stop gambling, even if you think it's for the best. Simply having an open and honest conversation with them can be a crucial step towards change, but ultimately they are responsible for taking the next steps. You can provide them with resources and support, but they need to be the ones to take action. It's possible that they may seek help right away, in the future, or not at all, but having a conversation with them is a positive first step.
Do you want more help?
For help to get ready for the conversation, you or your family member or friend can start an online chat with us or call the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858 – free, confidential, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
These services are available to support anyone affected by gambling harm, including family members or friends like you. It’s not only the person who gambles that can be affected, but the people close to them too. It’s important to take care of yourself when you’re supporting someone else. Check out the family and friends section in our peer support community to connect with people who understand.
Looking for information about asking for support?
This page is designed for people who are supporting loved ones through gambling harm. If you're looking for support for yourself or a client, take a look at this page instead:
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