Gambling is fun – until it starts controlling your life. Problems start when the gambler believes they can control the outcome, that they are “owed a win” for their persistence. They put down more than they can afford, and the win becomes their driving force. The more they lose, the more they put into that “one big win” in a bid to get back what they’ve lost. At this point, instead of a fun game, gambling has become a serious addiction and often ends in financial and personal ruin.

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Spot the Signs

Discussing problem gambling is still somewhat taboo. It’s also easy to hide –even from yourself. It can quickly creep up on you, so it’s good to be aware of the signs that a problem is brewing.

  • It’s always on your mind
    All you can think about is past bets and what you can bet on next. You need to play all the time and can’t control your urges.
  • Escapism
    You’re using gambling to escape other problems you’re facing in life, such as anxiety or depression. This is not the solution and will only add to your load.
  • Risky moves
    Chasing losses and reckless high-stakes bets. You can’t accept the inevitable losses that occur when you gamble.
  • Neglecting responsibilities
    Instead of paying your bills and rent, you’re ploughing that money into gambling. Before anything else – work, friends, loved ones – is your need to gamble.
  • Acquiring more money
    In order to finance your gambling, you’re taking out loans and asking friends and family for money. You start flogging your belongings or even turn to crime, such as stealing.
  • Shame
    Find yourself lying to those closest to you and being secretive about just how often you gamble? You withdraw from loved ones as the guilt following a big gambling session is too much to bear.
  • Concern
    Family and friends have outright expressed their worry about your behaviour.

Gambling: a drug

When gambling gets out of control it’s like any other form of addiction, ruining your life and that of those around you. Like any addiction, it manifests by altering your behaviour – secrecy, lying, stealing and irritability being common themes.

When quitting, it may take your loved one’s time to trust you again, especially if you’ve lied to them or stolen from them. The best you can do is to persevere with your efforts to beat your addiction and ask for their support. There’s a strong chance you could relapse, but with strong will plus professional and personal support, you have an equally strong chance of beating it.

How Problem Gambling Affects Lives

The worst part about problem gambling is the way it destroys lives, particularly when it leads to family breakdowns. Take, for example, Steve, 37, a successful IT operator. He seemed to have it all: a loving wife, two gorgeous kids, a detached house with a pool in the garden and a convertible. He’d enjoyed gambling occasionally with his friends since college but after a business trip to the States, he developed even more of a taste.

He joined a few online casinos and chose some dodgy welcome bonuses. He ended up having to wager way more than he’d anticipated in a bid to get hold of his winnings. With no clear bankroll management in place, he quickly started betting his monthly salary.

As his wages were no longer enough to cover his costs, he began selling things from the house, hoping his wife wouldn’t notice. He got so desperate he even sold some of his daughters’ toys. He couldn’t keep up with the bills, his wife was threatening to leave him and, still, he lied about quitting. Then one day his house was repossessed and himself and his family evicted. Desperate at the situation, his wife left him, taking their daughters. This kickstarted him into seeking professional help, but the situation left him irrevocably broken.

How to Treat It

Just like any other addiction, problem gambling can be successfully treated. The first step is to accept and acknowledge that you are addicted.

You don’t have to do this on your own. Confide in someone you trust. Addiction is a monster that cannot be tackled alone. Once you share your problem, it will seem more manageable and will help get rid of any shame.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) often has excellent results. It’s a talking therapy that helps you manage your addiction by changing how you think.

Join a support group where you can share your experiences with others who struggle with or have overcome the same problem. There are also support groups for family members.

Where to Get Help

If you’re concerned that you or someone you love might have a gambling problem, then you shouldn’t battle this alone. Below is a list of dedicated help and advice services:

  • PGF Services offers free counselling for gamblers and those affected by a loved one’s addiction. They also run support groups where you can talk to others who’re struggling. Email them at help@pgf.nz or call 0800 664 262.
  • Choice Not Chance provides a free phone service that aims to educate and support gamblers who can’t cope anymore. Call 0800 654 655 or text 80006 for free.
  • The Gambling Helpline offers advice and help for those who are affected by problem gambling. With regular phone calls and a referral system in place, they will intervene if a crisis is reported. It’s a 24-hour service funded by the state. Call them on 0800 654 655 or email info@gamblinghelpline.co.nz