Gambling

Do I have a problem with gambling?

Gambling is a problem if you have trouble limiting the amount of money or time you spend gambling, and this causes issues for you or the people around you.

Problem gamblers struggle to control their gambling impulses, even though gambling may be a negative influence on their life. Warning signs that gambling might be a problem include:

  • Going to gambling venues alone and frequently.
  • Gambling longer than you intended.
  • Spending more time gambling than doing your favourite pastimes or interests.
  • Gambling every last dollar.
  • Thinking about gambling every day.
  • Trying to win back money you have lost by gambling more (chasing your losses).
  • Reaching the point where you no longer enjoy gambling but gamble anyway.
  • 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 gambling might be a problem for you, visit the  Gambling Help Online. A short self-assessment will tell you how risky your gambling is. Use a gambling calculator to figure out how much you’re really spending on gambling. The gambling calculator will help you understand what you're missing out on because of gambling.

Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counseling can also provide free and confidential 24/7 support services for veterans and their families. Call 1800 011 046.

Why you might be gambling so much

Problem gambling is slightly more common in veterans than the general population.

For example, around 4% of Vietnam veterans[1] have a significant gambling problem, compared to about 2% of Australians.[2] People are more likely to have problems with gambling if they have other mental health problems. Post-traumatic stress disorderdepression or alcohol misuse all make it harder to control gambling. In this case, seeking help for gambling problems may also help you deal with other issues which should be addressed.

What you can do about it

Self-help

Self-help strategies can help you control your gambling. For some people, these strategies might be all that is needed. For others, they can be a useful addition to professional help.

Increasing your motivation to change

To bring perspective to your situation, start thinking about 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 motivate you to make changes that'll last.

Goal setting

If you have decided to change, the first 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 your gambling to $10 a week on the pokies by reducing the amount you gamble each day by $5 until you reach your goal.

Once you’ve set a goal, it can help to write it down as a contract with yourself. Tell important people in your life what you’ve planned so they can help you meet your target.

Monitor your gambling

By monitoring your gambling, you will learn more about when, where and why you gamble. For example, if you gamble at a club, do you start after having a few drinks or when your friends leave and you became bored? Knowing these triggers will help you avoid them.

Remember to detail the amount of money you're losing. This will serve as a good reminder that you need to limit your gambling. You can then set goals about what you'll do with the money you'll save from not gambling. 

Rewards

It’s important to reward yourself when you accomplish your goals. It’ll be easy to reward yourself with the money you save from not gambling.

Take action: Find enjoyable and rewarding activities to do instead of gambling

Think about positive activities you could do instead of gambling (like visiting a friend or doing some exercise). Try to distract yourself with better activities.

Use the Enjoyable and Rewarding Activities tool to identify activities and plan how you will get involved in them. Choose activities that will be good alternatives to gambling as well as some that you can use to reward yourself.

You can use this tool when you are planning to make changes, or once you have already started.

Improve your general wellbeing

Sometimes people gamble as an escape from other problems in their life.

The High Res website and app can help you manage the stress that may make your gambling worse. Having more social support, getting better at problem solving and learning to manage unpleasant feelings are important strategies to change your gambling behaviour.

Take action:  Build a support network to help you stop gambling

If you are planning to reduce your gambling, think about who can support you and help you cope with stress.

Use the Social Connections tool to identify people who can offer you support and the kind of support they can offer.

When you’re starting out, focus on strengthening relationships with those closest to you. 

Also, think about who your friends are and what activities you usually do with them. If you meet friends at a club that has gambling facilities, that may not be the best place to spend your time. You might consider meeting somewhere else to avoid temptation.

Take action: Get better at problem solving to reduce the risk of gambling

If you are finding it hard to deal with your problems, you might turn to gambling to escape.

Use the Problem Solving tool to guide you through a step-by-step process for tackling day-to-day problems to help you to feel calmer and more in control.

When you’re starting out, use the tool to solve a problem that isn't too complex. Once you’ve learned the skills you can start to apply the problem-solving approach to all sorts of situations as they arise in your day-to-day life.

Take action: Manage your emotions when you feel like gambling

When you are overwhelmed by strong emotions, it’s difficult to think clearly and stick to big goals like reducing your gambling.

Use the Managing Emotions tool to identify your emotions, regain your composure, think about your situation and decide on a productive course of action.

When you’re starting out, practice using the tool when you're feeling calm. Once you’ve learned the strategies, you’ll be able to use them whenever you feel yourself becoming overwhelmed and tempted to gamble.

The Emotional Control tool is also available on the High Res app to help you manage on the go.

Remember that changing any habit is hard work, and gambling regularly is a habit.

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.

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:

  • Money – problem gamblers tend to become secretive about money, and become angry when questioned about finances. You might feel like money is always short for no reason, or be contacted by creditors or receive disconnection notices.
  • Emotions – problem gamblers often feel anxious or depressed, become withdrawn, or have mood swings or sudden outbursts of anger.
  • Behaviour – 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. 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 veteran get treatment and provide support through the recovery process.

It’s also important to look after yourself while supporting a loved one through a gambling problem and its treatment.

Know your limits: decide what you are willing to accept and what you are not.

Talk to someone you trust (friend, family member, GP, counsellor or a support group) about the issue and how you feel.

You may also wish to talk to a financial counsellor, either with or without your partner or family member.

Financial counsellors can help to put measures in place to protect your assets and ensure that you are not responsible for any debt your partner or family member may acquire.

For information or advice contact Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 or visit Gambling help online.

Getting help

If you’ve tried all of these strategies but are still having problems with gambling, you might benefit from professional support:

  • GP is always a good place to start when trying to overcome addictions like gambling, and can make referrals for specialist support if necessary.
  • AT-Ease has information on a range of professional care that is available to current and former serving members.
  • Open Arms - Veterans and Families Counselling provides free and confidential counselling support to veterans and their families 24/7. Contact Open Arms on 1800 011 046.
  • Gambling Help provides confidential online, telephone and face-to-face counselling.
  • Relationships Australia provides counselling and support to problem gamblers and their families. If gambling has affected your relationship visit the website or call 1300 364 277.

[1] O'Toole, B. I., Marshall, R. P., Gson, D. A., Schureck, R. J., Dobson, M., Ffrench, M., . . . Vennard, J. (1996). The Australian Vietnam veterans health study: III. Psychological health of Australian Vietnam veterans and its relationship to combat. International Journal of Epidemiology, 25, 331-339.

[2] Problem Gambling Research and Treatment Centre (PGTRC). (2011). Guideline for screening, assessment, and treatment in problem gambling. Clayton: Monash University