Gambling

Problem gambling (a.k.a. compulsive gambling or gambling addiction) describes out-of-control gambling behaviour that causes harm or negative consequences to the gambler or someone else.
This section has information on problem gambling, including descriptions of behaviours and situations that will help you identify if you or a loved one has a problem. This section also provides suggestions for getting help to fix the problem.

Gambling

What is problem gambling?

Almost everyone gambles from time to time. However, gambling can become a problem for some people when they have trouble setting limits on the time and money involved. This often leads to financial stress and relationship difficulties.

Problem gamblers struggle to control their gambling impulses, even though gambling is having a negative effect on other areas of their life.

Problem gambling can affect just about anyone from all walks of life. However, it has been found that the prevalence of problem gambling is higher among military people than the general public. It is also known that people are more likely to have problems with gambling if they have other mental health problems, like post traumatic stress disorder or depression.

Veterans tend to be at higher risk of these other mental health problems than the general community, so that might help explain why they’re also more prone to developing gambling problems. If you would like to know more about the mental health issues associated with gambling, click the links in the text above.

Do I have a problem with gambling?

Gambling can rip quite a big hole in your life, and it is never too late to get on top of the problem – although with many things – the earlier you get onto it the less impact it will have.  Some early warning signs that gambling might be becoming a problem are:

  • Going to gambling venues alone and more often
  • Staying at gambling venues longer than you intended
  • Spending more time on gambling than other favourite pastimes or interests
  • Gambling every last dollar
  • Thinking about gambling every day
  • Trying to win back money you have lost with more gambling
  • Reaching the point where you no longer enjoy gambling
  • Finding it difficult to stop spending too much money on gambling
  • Lying to friends and family about your gambling - how much you have spent or not mentioning it at all
  • Feeling depressed and having trouble sleeping because of gambling
  • Noticing other areas of your life, such as family and work, are being negatively affected by your gambling.

If you think that gambling might be a problem for you and would like to find out more, visit www.choicenotchance.org.nz(external link)

What can I do about it?

As the name suggests, a gambling addiction is an addiction (very similar in fact to a substance addiction), so the problem might be beyond something you can fix yourself. For some, self-help strategies might be all that is needed. For others, they can be a useful addition to getting professional help. 

Self help

If you do start out down the self-help path, do not be disheartened if you are not successful, there are a number of places that dedicate themselves to helping people like yourself conquer problem gambling.

Increasing your motivation to change

It can be useful to think of the pros and cons of your gambling. Writing a list of these plusses and minuses is a really good way to help you see the big picture, and will help motivate you to make changes that last.

Goal setting

If you have decided to change, the first big question is whether to cut down or to stop completely. Goals work best if they are specific, achievable, and can be broken into steps. For example, you might decide to “Reduce my gambling to ten dollars once a week. I’ll reduce the amount I gamble each day by $5, until I reach my goal.” Once you’ve set a goal, it can help to write it down as a contract with yourself, and tell other important people in your life what you’ve planned.

Monitoring your gambling

By monitoring your gambling – with a diary or notebook - you will learn more about when, where, and why you gamble. Plus, it will help you to keep track of your gambling, including how much money you’re really losing, and will be a good reminder that you need to set limits. It is also a good way to monitor your progress towards your goals.

Rewards

It is really important to reward yourself for maintaining change and exploring alternatives to gambling. Perhaps with all the money you have saved by cutting back you can treat yourself (or partner) to something. Also, it is important to consider alternative POSITIVE activities you could be doing instead of gambling (like visiting a friend or doing some exercise).

Improve your general wellbeing

Sometimes people gamble more than they should when they’re worried about other aspects of their life. The tools in the Resilience toolkit can help you with strategies to solve problems, build social supports, get more active, and change the way you think, keep calm and sleep.

In particular, having more social support, getting better at problem solving and learning to manage unpleasant feelings are really important ways of changing your gambling behaviour. 

Remember that changing any habit is hard work. Stopping gambling for good might take a few goes; you might have the occasional relapse and start gambling again. Don’t give up! Talk to your doctor or counsellor about what happened, and why, and discuss strategies to avoid relapsing in the same way again.

If you’ve tried these strategies but are still having problems, you might benefit from getting additional support.

  • A GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome gambling problems, as he or she can manage your general health and make referrals for specialists if necessary.
  • Gambling Problem Helpline www.gamblinghelpline.co.nz(external link) provides confidential online or telephone counselling and resources. This service is available 24 hours a day. Visit the website or call 0800 654 655.

Issues for partners and families

One of the signs that someone has a problem with gambling is that they lie to their friends and family about how much money or time they spend gambling. This can make it hard to know when problem gambling is an issue for someone you love. Some of the clues you might notice are:

Problem gamblers tend to become secretive about money, and become angry when questioned about the family’s finances. You might feel like money is always short for no reason, or be contacted by creditors or receive disconnection notices.

Problem gamblers often feel anxious or depressed, become withdrawn, or have mood swings or sudden outbursts of anger.

Problem gamblers often disappear for long periods or are constantly late without any real excuse. They might start drinking more than usual or become overly defensive about their behaviour.

The relationship and financial difficulties caused by problem gambling are often picked up on by children. You may notice that your child doesn’t want to invite friends over, has trouble sleeping, becomes angry or anxious, has mood swings, or is doing less well in school. It’s important to talk honestly to children about gambling, using language they can understand, and let them know you’re trying to sort things out. Encourage them to talk, and listen carefully to their concerns.

Once a gambling problem is out in the open, family and partners can play a crucial role in helping the someone get treatment and supporting him or her through the recovery process.

It’s also important to look after yourself while supporting a loved one through a gambling problem. Know your limits; decide what you are willing to accept and what you are not. Talk to someone you trust, whether it’s a friend, family member, doctor, counsellor, or a support group.

You may also wish to talk to a financial counsellor, either with or without your partner or family member. Among other things, financial counsellors can help to put measures in place to protect your assets, and ensure that you are not responsible for any further debt your partner, or family member, may acquire. For information or advice contact or visit the Gambling Helpline.