Problem GamblingGambling can be an elusive and difficult problem, for both gamblers and their family and friends. While recreational gambling that is affordable and within a personís control can be fun, it is not unusual for gambling to get out of control. When people start gambling more than they would like, chasing losses, using gambling to cope with stress or to switch off and escape, and when they find themselves unable to cut down or stop, gambling can ultimately wreak havoc in peopleís lives.
A number of psychologists in our practice have particular training and expertise working with problem gambling. Chrisi Lambos has completed Honours and Masters level research into problem gambling, and supported the Victorian Government in their evaluation of the then current Problem Gambling Communication and Education Strategy. She was also contracted by the Australian Psychological Society College of Clinical Psychologists to produce a resource for other psychologists on the best practice prevention and treatment strategies for problem gambling. Connie Terzis and Lissa Johnson also have both worked on gambling help lines and have received specialist training in working with gambling.
Problem gambling can creep up stealthily on a gambler and their family. As gambling is legal, and does not have the obvious physical manifestations of alcohol and other drugs, gamblers can hide their behaviour from those around them. It may also take a gambler a considerable amount of time to admit to themselves that they have a problem. Sometimes people seek help only once their gambling has escalated to a point where they are in financial dire straits and they can no longer keep gambling; or when family or friends have discovered the extent of their gambling and they can no longer keep their behaviour secret. Other people may move in and out of viewing their gambling as a problem, sometimes resolving to change, and other times convincing themselves that itís really not that bad.
Apart from its financial impact, problem gambling can cause gamblers to feel out of control, worried about their finances and their future, guilty about their behaviour and their secrecy, and stressed by the effect that gambling may be having on their lives and relationships. Depending on the severity of the problem, gamblers may also feel depressed about their situation, their self esteem may suffer, and they may feel trapped in a cycle that they canít escape.
Family and loved ones of gamblers can also experience considerable suffering as a result of gambling. Trust is often undermined when a partner finds out that secrets have been kept or promises broken. Conflict can arise as a result of the gambling, resentments may accumulate about financial losses and past behaviour, and family and friends can be confused about how to help, and may feel hopeless and powerless in the face of the gambling.
Below is a list of indicators that you or someone close to you may be experiencing problem gambling. Different people will experience a different combination of these factors, to differing degrees. Not everyone experiences every symptom of problem gambling.
- Being preoccupied with gambling (e.g. preoccupied with reliving past gambling experiences, planning the next venture, or thinking of ways to get money with which to gamble)
- Needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money in order to achieve the desired excitement
- Experiencing repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop gambling
- Being restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling
- Gambling as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving negative feelings (e.g. feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)
- After losing money gambling, often returning another time to chase losses
- Lying to family members or others to conceal the extent of involvement with gambling
- Committing illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance gambling
- Jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunity because of gambling
- Relying on others to provide money to relieve a desperate financial situation caused by gambling
If you would like help with your own gambling, or help responding constructively to someone elseís gambling, one of our psychologists with gambling expertise would be happy to see you. You may call the practice office on (02) 9331 0756 or email us to set up an appointment.