How can you support your family member or friend to change?
After talking to your family member or friend about their gambling (see Having the Conversation), you’ll know a bit more about whether they’re ready to change their gambling and how open they are to seeking support. When they are ready, you can support them to change by discussing potential options for change and developing a plan together. You could encourage them to help themselves or support them to connect to gambling support services. Other ways to support your family member or friend to change is to avoid unknowingly encouraging them to continue gambling, set new boundaries, and take care of yourself, as well as keeping the conversation going and preparing for setbacks. By supporting them in their journey towards recovery, you can help them to overcome the harms of gambling and begin to rebuild their life.
How can you discuss options for change?
Telling your family member or friend to just stop gambling is not very helpful. Like any habit, making a change can be very difficult and anxiety-provoking. An important step in supporting your family member or friend is to acknowledge that gambling is not always easy to get under control. For someone to effectively make a change in their life, they need to be willing to recognise that their gambling is causing harm and to commit to doing something about it. They often need to recognise that any short-term benefits of gambling are outweighed by the harm it causes. You can help by increasing their motivation and confidence to change their gambling, as well as offering to explore options for change together. See our information on the Stages of Change for more information about how people become ready to do something about their gambling.
What are the options for change?
There are many ways to get help. It can be a lot to deal with on your own, so you can offer to go through the options with your family member or friend. Some people prefer to try to manage their own gambling, while others may benefit from talking to a professional counsellor who listens without judgement. Counsellors can help with strategies that support change. Banning themselves from gambling venues or websites is also an option. You can play a crucial role in helping your family member or friend find the right type of support for them.
For more information about the different types of help available, take a look at:
How can you encourage people to help themselves?
Self-help activities are tools and techniques that people can use on their own to help them manage their gambling and reduce harm. You can work with your family member or friend to identify which self-help activities might be helpful for them and support them as they try them out. For example, some activities that might be helpful include:
- Setting Gambling Goals
- Taking Control of Finances, which suggests strategies for reducing their access to money, credit cards, and savings
- Gambling Triggers
- The Benefits of Change
- Keeping Busy
- Creating a Budget
- Finding Ways to Relax
- Changing Thoughts and Beliefs
- Focusing on Health and Wellbeing
- Seeking Support
- Managing Urges
We also have a series of self-help modules that can help people manage their own gambling.
How can you connect people to gambling support services?
When someone you care about admits to struggling with their gambling, it can be helpful to encourage them to seek support. You can connect them to a professional gambling support service, which offers various options such as online chat, helpline support, ongoing counselling (including telehealth), email and SMS support, and financial counselling. They can also benefit from online forums or banning themselves from gambling venues and websites.
For someone experiencing gambling harm, seeking help can take a lot of courage. As a friend or family member, you can initiate contact with a support service with them present or offer to attend the initial appointment with them if they're willing. These services are free and confidential.
For more information about the different types of support and counselling options that are available, see our section on Seeking Support. For more information on bans from gambling venues or websites, see our section on Gambling Self-Exclusion.
What else can you do to support change?
There are some other things you can do to support change for your family member or friend. These include avoiding “enabling” behaviours, setting boundaries, taking care of yourself, keeping the conversation going, and preparing for setbacks.
Avoid “enabling” behaviours
It's great to want to help a family member or friend who is struggling with gambling, but sometimes your help can unintentionally make things worse by “enabling” their gambling. This means that instead of helping them overcome their issue, you may unknowingly encourage them to continue gambling. It's important to be aware of this and try to avoid “enabling” behaviours.
Some of these include:
- Lending them money
- Covering for lost time
- Explaining, justifying, or making excuses for them
- Trying to reduce problems or stress so that they will gamble less
- Denying the extent of the harm
- Prioritising their needs over yours
If you keep stepping in to fix their problems, they won't be able to feel the full impact of their actions and are ‘enabled’ to continue justifying and perpetuating their gambling behaviour. It will also likely keep you stuck in an ‘enabler’ role, whereby every time they need support they come to you, without much or any concern for the uncomfortable position they may be putting you in. Over time, this may cause significant challenges for you.
Set new boundaries
Setting boundaries and following through with them is an effective way to support your family member or friend to make positive changes. Let them know what you’re willing to do to help, but also what you won’t accept. It can also be helpful to get them to repeat back to you what these boundaries are and have them verbally agree to them, so that there is no ambiguity moving forward. Consistently reinforce the message that you care about them and that the new boundaries are designed to protect both of you. Over time, you can revisit these boundaries and adjust them as necessary.
Some examples of arrangements that you might wish to put in place are:
- A complete disclosure of all existing debt and financial statements
- No longer bailing them out of gambling debts or other unpaid financial expenses due to their gambling
- Separating access to finances
- Helping them establish limits around access to cash and credit
- No lying on their behalf or keeping secrets from various other family members or friends
- Not taking care of their children while they gamble
- Not covering for work absenteeism or other commitments
- Setting expectations and requirements if they live with you and outlining the consequences if they fail to maintain them
Communicate your boundaries in a clear and firm manner so that your family member or friend understands that you are serious. You may want to practice what you plan to say with a trusted friend or counsellor beforehand. It's also important to only set rules and limits that you are willing to follow through with. Otherwise, they may not take your boundaries seriously.
When you help a family member or friend, you’re setting an example for them. This includes both appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. If you let them breach or violate your boundaries, you’re showing them that it’s acceptable to do the same to themselves, like how much they gamble or how often they do it. But if you maintain your own boundaries, you’re showing them that they can also set and keep their boundaries and build trust in themselves.
Take care of yourself
It's essential to prioritise taking care of yourself while supporting your family member or friend. Practicing self-care can help you handle the stress that comes with supporting someone who experiences gambling harm. It's also okay to seek help for yourself if needed. The same counselling and support services available to your family member or friend are available to you as well. Don't hesitate to reach out for assistance if you need it. See our information on Looking After Yourself and Seeking Support.
Keep the conversation going
Staying in communication with your family member or friend is crucial, regardless of whether or not they seek support for their gambling. By keeping the conversation open and checking in with them regularly, you can let them know that you are available to support them whenever they need it. This can help them feel safe and comfortable enough to talk about their thoughts and feelings regarding their gambling.
Prepare for setbacks
Your family member or friend can recover from harmful gambling, but the journey to recovery is not always a smooth one. There may be setbacks and challenges as they work towards changing their gambling. It's good to remain positive and hopeful about their recovery, but also be realistic and acknowledge that lapses, and even a return to previous levels of gambling, can happen. As a supportive family member or friend, you can help by being understanding and encouraging, and reminding them that setbacks are a normal part of the recovery process. Find out more about lapses and relapses in Understanding Lapses and Relapse.
Even after your family member or friend stops gambling, some of the problems they faced while gambling may persist. Financial difficulties, relationship issues, and legal troubles can continue, even after they’ve regained control of their gambling. If your family member or friend stops gambling, it could create new problems for them. For example, if they were gambling to cope with trauma, escape family violence, or avoid other emotional issues, they might need to find other ways to deal with these issues after they stop gambling. You can continue to offer support and resources to help them address these ongoing issues. Encouraging them to seek financial counselling, relationship counselling, or legal advice if necessary can help them navigate these challenges as they continue on the path of recovery. See our information on Overcoming Challenges for more information.
How can we support you?
You can assist your family member or friend in finding the most suitable form of support for their needs. We understand that helping someone who is experiencing gambling harm can be difficult, and we’re here to assist both you and your family member or friend.
Do you want more help?
For help to support your family member or friend to change, 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.
Are you looking for information about maintaining change?
This page was designed for people who are supporting a loved one through change. If you're looking for information to help yourself or a client maintain change, take a look at some other articles:
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