Have you been harmed by a family member or friend’s gambling?
Gambling issues can have a significant impact not only on the person who gambles but also on their family members and friends. When a family member or friend has an issue with their gambling, it can lead to financial problems, emotional stress, and strain on relationships.
It can be tough to have a relationship with someone who has an issue with their gambling, especially when you don’t know how to help them. But recognising how their gambling is affecting your life can help you understand what’s going on and deal with the difficulties that come with it. This understanding can help you set limits, get support from others, and take care of your own wellbeing. It will help you figure out what to do next so that you can take care of yourself first. This will make it easier for you to support your family member or friend in their recovery.
Are you concerned about the harms of someone’s gambling on their family members and friends?
Gambling doesn’t only impact the person who gambles. It can also impact their family members and friends, who typically provide essential care and support to their loved ones.
Having a relationship with someone experiencing gambling harm can be tough, particularly when you don’t know how to help them. Recognising how another person’s gambling affects your life can help you decide what steps to take next.
Professionals often come across people who have been harmed by the gambling of a family member or friend. You are in an excellent position to identify and help these people. Recognising how the gambling might affect them can help you decide what steps you should take next.
What is gambling harm?
Gambling-related harm is defined as:
Any initial or exacerbated adverse consequence due to an engagement with gambling that leads to a reduction in the health or wellbeing of an individual, family unit, community or population. - Erika Langham et al
It’s not just partners or spouses who can be harmed by someone else’s gambling. Children, parents, grandparents, friends, neighbours, and workmates are also harmed by someone else’s gambling. Recent research shows that for every person experiencing gambling harm, an average of six people close to them are also affected. Even the gambling of people with lower severity issues can affect family members and friends.
The 2019-2020 national gambling study shows that around 6% of Australian adults report they have experienced at least one harm resulting from another person’s gambling in the previous year.
The harms from gambling can vary from person to person. Some people might not be affected at all, while others might experience severe harm. Sometimes, these harms reach a crisis point, which is when family members or friends usually start to think about making changes or getting help. These are called crisis harms.
Serious harm caused by gambling can have a long-lasting impact that affects future generations. These are known as legacy harms. For example, if a parent loses a lot of money gambling, their children might be affected by poverty for a long time. People who grow up with an adult in their home who has an issue with their gambling are also more likely to develop harmful gambling. When parents gamble and spend a lot of time away from their families, their children may feel neglected and may have trouble forming strong bonds with their parents, which can make them more likely to develop gambling problems in the future. This means that harms can continue to occur, or emerge, in family members or friends, even after the gambling is under control. This can be hard for people who gamble because family members and friends may find out about the gambling at the same time as they are seeking help or getting their gambling under control.
How can gambling harm family members and friends?
When you think about the negative effects of gambling on family members or friends, you might first think about financial problems or relationship difficulties. However, gambling can affect almost every part of their lives. A recent Conceptual Framework of Gambling Related Harm outlines seven domains of harm for family members or friends that can be caused by gambling. In this framework, financial harms, relationship problems, and emotional difficulties are the most common harms, but family members and friends can also experience harm to their health, cultural practices, and their performance at work or school. Some people might also experience other harms, such as committing crimes, not taking care of their children properly, driving in an unsafe way, or being aggressive towards others.
Take a look at some of the harms reported by family members and friends that can result from another person’s gambling.
Financial impacts are the most common harms reported by family members and friends. These harms can have an immediate and significant effect on their lives and can cause other harms as well. Financial problems are usually what make family members and friends seek support or help for themselves. Even after the gambling is under control, financial harms can have a long-term impact on the lives of family members and friends.
Some common financial harms reported by family members and friends include:
- Reduced savings
- Reduced available spending money
- Increased credit card debt
- Selling personal items
- Taking on additional employment
- Being late for payments on bills – like electricity, gas, or rates
- Reduced spending on recreational activities – like eating out, going to movies, or other entertainment
- Reduced spending on beneficial expenses – like insurances, education, car and home maintenance
- Reduced spending on essential expenses – like medications, healthcare and food
Some more severe financial harms include:
- Loss of significant assets
- Disconnection of utilities – like electricity or gas
- Needing help from welfare organisations – like foodbanks or emergency bill payments
- Needing emergency or temporary accommodation
Family members and friends often report losing trust in the person who gambles. They can feel that the person is not putting as much effort into their relationship as they are, and that they have to “parent” them, especially around finances. Relationship harms can related to the money and time spent gambling. Relationship problems can continue even after the person has their gambling under control, and they’re a common reason why family members or friends seek help or support.
Some common relationship harms reported by family members and friends include:
- Spending less time with the people they care about
- Getting less enjoyment from the time they spend with the people they care about
- Neglecting their relationship responsibilities
- Spending less time attending social events
- Having greater tension in their relationships – like suspicion, lying or resentment
- Having greater conflict in their relationships – like arguing, fighting or ultimatums
- Feeling belittled in their relationships
Some more severe relationship harms include:
- Threat of separation or ending a relationship
- Actual separation or ending a relationship
- Feeling excluded or shut-off from others
Family members and friends often report feeling upset or distressed about the other person’s gambling. They may feel like they don’t have control over their lives or feel insecure and unsafe. Shame and stigma are also common feelings experienced by family members and friends.
Some common emotional harms reported by family members and friends include:
- Feeling distressed about the person’s gambling
- Feeling ashamed of the person’s gambling
- Feeling like a failure
- Feeling insecure or vulnerable
- Feeling angry about the person not controlling their gambling
- Feeling worthless
Some more severe emotional harms include:
- Feelings of hopelessness about the person’s gambling
- Feelings of extreme distress
- Thoughts of running away or escape
Gambling can have negative effects on the health of family members or friends. This is because they may not have enough money to take care of their health needs. As a result, they may develop health problems that continue even after the gambling is under control.
Some common health harms reported by family members and friends include:
- Reduced physical activity due to the person’s gambling
- Stress-related health problems – like high blood pressure or headaches
- Losing sleep due to spending time with the person gambling
- Losing sleep due to stress or worry about the person’s gambling
- Neglecting their hygiene and self-care
- Neglecting their medical needs – including failing to take prescribed medications
- Not eating as much or as often as they should
- Eating too much
- Increasing their smoking
- Increasing their drinking
Some more severe health harms include:
- Developing depression
- Experiencing family violence because of the person’s gambling
- Increasing their use of health and emergency services due to health issues caused or worsened by the person’s gambling
- Living in unhygienic living conditions – like living rough or in neglected or unclean housing
- Attempting suicide
Cultural harm often occurs with relationship harms because of the link between family and culture. In some cases, these harms can be felt by family members and friends before the person who gambles.
Some cultural harms reported by family members and friends include:
- Reduced participation in cultural rituals
- Experiencing culturally based shame in relation to their cultural roles and expectations
- Reduced contribution to their community and cultural practices
- Reduced connection to their cultural community
- Feeling excluded or shut out from their cultural community
Work or study harms are consistent for family members and friends who are in paid employment, studying, or undertaking volunteer work. They are generally caused by other gambling harms. For example, a family member or friend might be tired and distracted at work or study as a result of gambling-related emotional or psychological distress.
Some common work or study harms reported by family members and friends include:
- Reduced performance at work or study due to tiredness or distraction
- Being late for work or study
- Being absent from work or study
- Hindering their job-seeking efforts
- Using their work or study time to attend to issues caused by the person’s gambling
- Using their work or study resources to help with matters arising from the person’s gambling
- Less availability for additional commitments
- Less progression in their job or study
- Conflict with their workmates
Some more severe work or study harms include:
- Losing their job
- Being excluded from their study
Some family members and friends might experience other negative effects from another person’s gambling, including:
- Neglecting their children
- Petty theft, including taking money or items from friends or family without asking first
- Committing a criminal act to fund their family member or friend’s gambling or pay debts – like stealing, trafficking or selling drugs, dishonestly claiming government payments, prostitution or dealing in stolen goods
- Being arrested for unsafe driving
- Being violent – including domestic or family violence
How do you know if you’ve been harmed by a family member or friend’s gambling?
It can be quick and easy to find out if you’ve been harmed by your family member or friend’s gambling.
If you’ve noticed any of these harms within the last year, it could be a sign that your family member or friend’s gambling is causing negative effects on your life. However, it’s also possible that you’re experiencing other harms from your family or friend’s gambling that aren’t listed here.
It’s important to take care of yourself and to get help for yourself if you need it. It’s not just people who gamble who need support, but also the people around them. Feeling the strain of dealing with someone’s gambling is normal, but focusing on caring for yourself and working through your feelings can decrease the impact of someone else’s gambling on you. See our section on Looking After Yourself.
Some people feel apprehensive or even embarrassed about asking for help, but it’s important to protect yourself and learn how best to manage the harms that are caused by your family member or friend’s gambling. It’s important to manage these harms, so you’re in a better position to help yourself. You’ll also be in a better position to do something productive about their gambling. See our information on Seeking Support to find ways you can get some support for yourself to help you through this difficult time.
Do you want more help?
These services are available to support anyone affected by gambling harm, including family members or friends like you. Family members and friends can play an important role in people’s gambling recovery. To learn more about how you can support someone else change their gambling, go to our sections on Having the Conversation and Supporting Change.
How do you know if someone has been harmed by another person's gambling?
It can be quick and easy to find out if someone has been harmed by another person’s gambling.
If you’ve noticed any of these harms within the last year, it could be a sign that someone else’s gambling is causing negative effects on their life. However, it’s also possible that they’re experiencing other harms from someone else’s gambling that aren’t listed here.
It’s important that family members and friends take care of themselves and get help for themselves if they need it. It’s not just people who gamble who need support – it’s also people around them. Feeling the strain of dealing with someone’s gambling is normal – but focusing on caring for themselves and working through their feelings can decrease the impact of someone else’s gambling on them. See our section on Looking After Yourself.
Some people feel apprehensive or even embarrassed about asking for help - but it's important to protect themselves and learn how best to manage the harm caused by someone else's gambling. It's important to manage these harms, so they're in a better position to help themselves. They'll also be better positioned to do something productive about their friend or family member's gambling. See our information on Seeking Support to find ways family members and friends can get some support to help them through this difficult time.
Do you want more help?
To find out more about harms to family members or friends, you or the person you’re working with 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, friends, and professionals like you. It can be hard for professionals to support people with gambling issues. To learn more about how you can help, go to our section on How Professionals Can Help.