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Gambling harm: when hope, help and recovery are possible

Gambling harm: when hope, help and recovery are possible

Gambling. What comes to your mind when you read or listen to the word gambling?

It probably depends whether you are the gambler or a friend or family member of someone who is gambling at harmful levels.

Today we want to focus on the people who gamble and the emotions and feelings they might be experiencing when gambling.

If you are, or have been, a gambler for a while you would probably be able to name several emotions. The routine feels good. At first, you feel excitement, enjoyment and the adrenaline rushing up every time you play. You truly believe that you are a winner and you are going to wipe out the stress of the day at work or home. But what happens afterwards? How are your finances and/or relationships?

You might have felt judged by your family, friends or colleagues. You maybe started limiting your social interactions with those you fear may judge you. You know that your family members are worried about you, but you think that they just don’t understand you.

You may feel shame and guilt.

We can tell you, you are not alone.

The excitement and adrenaline washed over John every time he planned to gamble. He thought he could ease the stress or solve his financial concerns through gambling.

John was undergoing relationship and self-esteem issues. He had a limited social and support network in Canberra. He also had a complicated relationship with his surviving parent, and his ex-wife lived in another state with primary custody of their child, whom he saw infrequently.

The stress intensified over time. John’s gambling spun out of control.

John, like many others, experienced gambling harm.

What is gambling harm?

According to the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission, gambling harm is so much more than just losing money. It starts when we have a sense that we are losing more than we are gaining. It negatively impacts people’s health or wellbeing as well as, their family or community.

People harmed by gambling can withdraw socially, spending less time with their family and friends. They sometimes miss social gatherings or activities because they cannot afford them anymore.

Family members and friends may try to help. Sometimes they attempt to control or restrict access to money. They commonly advise their loved ones to seek help.

Financial difficulties are another effect of gambling harm. People reduce spending money on essentials including food, medication, housing and education, and increasing problems related to debt. Sometimes the gambler feels the temptation to keep on gambling to deal with the financial strain.

We understand that the stigma associated with gambling harm within the community can be a huge barrier for people accessing support. Stigma can also be a barrier for people who are recovering, as they can feel constantly judged by others, which can put a tremendous amount of pressure on them.

The path of recovery

John’s story is about the hope for recovery as he gets his life back on track. He belongs to the group of people in the ACT who have sought help because of financial and/or relationship concerns caused by gambling harm*.

We understand that recovery involves a major change in people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and that such changes require support as they reconstruct their lives. At the ACT Gambling Support Service (AGSS) we assist people to reinterpret or reframe their situation, without shame or judgement.

The AGSS model focuses on individual assessment and uniquely tailored responses for each client like John, recognising that people will need different tools and interventions throughout their journey.

John was referred to Care Financial Counselling Service for financial counselling support in managing his finances. Additionally, the gambling counsellor used a variety of counselling interventions to support John over a period of nine months.

The AGSS counsellor initially saw John weekly to help stabilise him, spreading the appointments out to monthly meetings towards the end of the counselling. The latter appointments were focused on helping John feel more comfortable with himself as low self-esteem was assessed as a risk for future episodes of gambling.

At the end of the nine months, John reported he had ceased gambling, and only gambled once at that time. John could recognise cognitive distortions concerning gambling, for example that gambling would not solve his short-term financial difficulties or ease his stress. He learnt strategies and could look at exercise and other activities to relieve stress.

Sometimes it makes a difference to have someone to talk to, someone who listens and does not judge. We respect each person’s circumstances and provide free and confidential support to you and/or those around you.

If you feel gambling is harming your life or you are worried about a family member or friend is gambling, we can support you. Our services are free, confidential and available 24/7.

*All case studies are de-identified to ensure the confidentiality and privacy of our clients.

*ACT Gambling and Support Service Annual external report 2019 – 2020.