How can I help?
Problem gambling (or gambling related harm) has been defined as ‘gambling behaviour that creates negative consequences for the gambler, others in his or her social network, or for the community’ (Ferris & Wynne 2001)
If you have a loved one, family member or friend whose gambling is causing harm, the impact may be as much as on you as them. This may trigger a whole range of emotions towards the gambler, from anger and despair to feeling you want to help them stop gambling. In some respects, witnessing the impact of another’s addiction can be as traumatic for you. The gambling dependent person will be in an ‘addiction bubble’ and may not fully appreciate the harm they are causing, but you can.
Some of the ways gambling harm can impact on others is:
- Breakdown of relationship
- Financial issues
- Welfare issues
- Loss of trust and cause of conflict
- Heighten issues around stress, anxiety and depression
- Feel exploited and lied to
‘Why don’t you just stop??!!’
Most gambling addicts would have had this said to them. The psychology of gambling addiction can be hard to understand and empathise with, after all there is no substance, no cigarettes, no alcohol. Recent research, particularly neurological studies, have shown that behavioural addictions are just as overwhelming to the addict as those associated with chemicals or substances. The same reward pathways in the brain are ‘hijacked’, for example the impact on the brain and release of chemicals is the same for a binging gambling addict as a binging cocaine addict.
Bear in mind that the gambler may not be processing and evaluating gambling harm the way you are. Financial losses may not be a red flag to stop, instead they may intensify the belief that gambling is the ONLY way to recoup losses. It is likely that the gambling has been going on for some time and has been hidden or losses concealed. The gambler's beliefs and attitudes towards gambling may be long held and deeply engrained. It may take a combination of professional treatment, time and the help of a support network to help them begin the process of recovery and away from addiction.
We would recommend a three-step action plan:
- Put immediate safeguards on financial services and do not loan or provide resources that may enable more gambling.
- Call a support service and request advice.
- At an appropriate time, work out a realistic plan of action, including boundaries and support for all of those affected.