Australia is a big contributor to global gambling revenue. According to the Australian Gambling Research Centre, Australians lost approximately $25 billion to legal forms of gambling in 2018-19.
Gambling is structured so that gamblers always, over time, lose money. Yet it can be alluring and enticing, because gambling structures take advantage of unpredictable reward schedules and exploit aspects of our psychology. This means that frequent gambling can become problematic, and even an addiction. While these problems usually begin financially, a gambling problem can have flow-on effects to the person's relationships, social life, and health.
What is problem gambling?
- Anybody who gambles has the potential to develop problems. People can begin to lose control when difficult personal issues arise and gambling becomes a coping strategy.
- Problem gambling is characterised by a strong pull or compulsion towards gambling that becomes more and more difficult to resist. People describe the urge to gamble and say that despite all the logical arguments they have against gambling this urge will not go away until it is satisfied (by gambling).
- People often become frustrated with themselves about this and carry feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment.
- Excessive gambling can lead to significant problems that may harm relationships, finances, work, physical health, and mental health. At this point, it is problem gambling.
The following are some signs that gambling has become a problem:
- Gambling more money than is affordable.
- Being preoccupied with gambling, for example reliving past gambling experiences or thinking of ways to get money for gambling.
- Making repeated, unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop gambling and being irritable or restless during these attempts.
- Gambling to escape from problems or to relieve negative feelings.
- Chasing losses, i.e. after losing money, gambling more to try to win them back.
- Lying to others to conceal the extent of gambling, or feeling anxious that someone will find out about your situation.
- Obtaining money illegally to gamble, or borrowing from friends, family, or financial institutions.
- Risking relationships and work or educational opportunities due to gambling.
- Gambling alone.
- Feeling stressed during and/or after a gambling session.
Gambling can affect different aspects of your life, and the lives of those around you:
- Personal life - feeling depressed and gambling to escape pressure or conflict. Feelings of loneliness and isolation from family and friends.
- Family life - relationships suffering. Family members covering up addictive behaviour by paying debts. Lying to keep the extent of gambling a secret.
- Financial situation - borrowing money to delay disaster. Gambling until all of your money is gone. Gambling to chase losses even when in debt. Financial difficulties possibly leading to legal problems.
- Work life - loss of concentration. Lost time from work due to gambling. Decreased work productivity. Working long hours to obtain money to gamble.
- Health - stress related illness, such as headaches, back pain, inability to sleep, mood swings, and hypertension. Loss of control over gambling can trigger feelings of guilt and desperation that can lead to thoughts of suicide.
- Values - thoughts of "borrowing" from employers or friends, committing fraud or forgery. Lying about the amount of time and money spent on gambling.
- Social life - preferring to gamble alone. Little time for socialising. Avoiding friends who have lent money.
Strategies to control gambling
Following are some suggestions for reducing the harm associated with gambling:
- Work out how much you can afford to spend on gambling and budget for it.
- Be careful to stick to your gambling budget. One way to do this is to only take the amount of money you have budgeted for gambling.
- Practice delay in responding to the urge to gamble by doing something else or finding long-term enjoyable activities.
- Gamble in company, not alone.
- Develop a support network of family or friends to talk to when you want to resist the urge to gamble.
Sometimes, even after trying some of these strategies, dealing with gambling problems can be too difficult to do alone. This is when the extra support of someone who specialises in gambling counselling can be very helpful.
- You are welcome to use ANU Counselling's free and confidential service to discuss any gambling concerns.
- See the ACT Gambling Support service for more information, advice, and support. You can call their free helpline on 1800 858 858, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
- See also the related links on the right of this page for more support and information.