Reading this blog can help you pull yourself away from Gambling!

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Reading this article (and others like it) can be one of the many ways you can help yourself to stop gambling. But how you may ask?

Research shows that recognising that you have a gambling problem, and committing to change is a really important step in your recovery process. You are here because you want to change and by seeking out articles like this, one you are reaffirming that you want to change, so well done for getting to this step!

A commitment to change can come in many forms, some ways can include:

  • Calling a friend instead of Gambling
  • Choosing a different way home from work, so you don’t go past a venue
  • Leaving your bank cards at home so that you can’t withdraw any money
  • Reading a blog like this one that helps you reappraise your gambling and ways you can cope.

Even just putting off your gambling one day at a time can be a great approach to getting yourself further along in the recovery process.

For example Manda, a recovering gambler said ‘I would take it one day at a time – I’d say, I won’t go today but I’ll go tomorrow. And then, when I made it to tomorrow, I’d see if I could make it another day’.

This might sound quite minor, but all change begins with a small step. Making a commitment not to gamble even for one day is a great start!

Research also suggests that it helps to understand that relapse is a fairly normal part of recovery for most people and while it can feel very frustrating at the time, it is often a really helpful learning opportunity.

Many people find after having a small gambling relapse, they think about their behaviour differently. It can give you the opportunity to reflect on the harms than can be caused by gambling and motivate you too change.

A client we have seen called Todd remembers the shift that happened for him:

‘I had been trying to stay away for several months, but relapsed after a particularly bad week at work. Because I’d blown so much, my wife asked me to leave and so I stayed with my brother for a week or so. Although I was devastated, it was helpful to talk to him about what had happened and he got me ready to get help. I started seeing my gambling for what it was – an escape from the stresses of work and family life. I developed some good strategies and now manage my stress in a much healthier way.’

So remember by recognising you want to change, committing to that change and learning from any moments of relapse you are progressing your road to recovery, we are here to help you with the steps along the way!

If you would like to speak with a counsellor about how to put some more changes into place, please call us on 1800 858 858.

This is the first part in our series of ‘Pull Factor – strategies for stopping Gambling’, watch out for part two next week which talks about how to stay aware.

 

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Jessica’s Story – Part 1

Jessica's StoryGambling in Australia is more readily available than anywhere else in the world and this can cause problems for people coming from countries where it is more restricted.

For example, recently arrived migrants to Australia can find the freedom of the Australian culture and the constant availability of gambling activities a risk factor for problematic gambling. This is especially dangerous when new migrants are trying to find their feet and be accepted into this new Australia culture.

As it is for many people, gambling can be mistakenly  seen as a way make money especially when their incomes are poor and the allure and glamour of the Casino is difficult to resist (Feldman, S. et al 2014).

Jessica comes from a Chinese background. Her family has been affected by her father’s gambling.  Here is the beginning of her gambling story which we will follow over a series of 4 blog posts.

Jessica

I’m twenty years old.  I live in Campsie. I was born here in Australia but my parents are from China. I speak fluent Chinese and pretty well all of my friends are Chinese. I’m an only child. We don’t really have much extended family living close to us.

In China, gambling is banned. So when my father came here to Australia, he had a lack of education about it. And it’s very addictive. My Dad developed a problem. And it wasn’t just him, a lot of our family friends developed problems as well. This happened when I was about fourteen or fifteen.

Jessica’s dad is not a new migrant.  He has been here at least 15 years.  We know from recent research however, that when someone does not identify with the Australian culture, casinos can be attractive for migrants (Victorian Casino and Gaming Authority, 2000).

Casinos work hard at being an attractive environment, and for those with little knowledge of English, they provide a relatively safe environment with the added incentive of staff who speak the language and games that are familiar. Within Chinese cultural settings, gambling may be seen as a method by which individuals are able to improve their status and social standing so that can be another attraction (Oei & Raylu, 2010).

Jessica does not give any information about what sort of gambling problem her father developed. In many ways it is not relevant to the story as the effects will be the same.  She talks about how her dad’s gambling changed the father she knew and how it affected her family.

The first thing that I noticed was that my Dad’s behaviour changed. He used to be very happy and outgoing but then he started disappearing at night for no reason.  He’d be out until 3am and be really shifty about it. Then he’d be really tired and cranky. He just wasn’t the same person.

The emotional and financial impacts of the problem gambling behaviours were significant for both Jessica and her family:

I felt like I had lost my father because he had changed so much. He also stopped supporting me- he stopped coming to my parent-teacher interviews, he never remembered my birthday- all he wanted to do was gamble. Then my mother started to develop depression. It was hard. Both my parents were emotionally damaged. And financially, there were some things that we just didn’t buy anymore.  Some activities that I loved to do, I just couldn’t do them anymore.

Jessica talks about some of the really common signs that someone is developing a gambling problem.  If you notice some of these signs in a member of your family (behaviour changing, they are staying out late without reason or if there is a shortage of money) seek some assistance.   A good place to start is at https://gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/other-languages/ where there is information in the major languages in the community.

There are also videos in community languages

https://www.youtube.com/user/GamblingHangover

Feldman, S., Radermacher, R., Anderson, C. & Dickins, M. (2014). A qualitative investigation of the experiences, attitudes and beliefs about gambling in the Chinese and Tamil communities in Victoria, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation. February 2014.

Oei, T. P. S., & Raylu, N. (2010). Gambling behaviors and motivations: A cross-cultural study of Chinese and Caucasians in Australia. The International Journal of Social Psychiatry, 56(1), 23-34.

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Negative Emotions and Gambling Relapse

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Negative emotions such as worry about finances and the guilt and shame associated with losing money through gambling are often the reasons people give for the decision to give up gambling. However, negative emotions can also trigger a relapse.

Negative emotions come in many forms – feeling bored, stressed, overwhelmed, sad, lonely and depressed. For example, Helen had stopped gambling 3 months before her relapse.  Helen attributed this relapse to being bored at home after her friend cancelled a movie date, this unexpected time and money were her downfall to gambling again:

I tried so hard not to gamble and was doing so well. Then out of the blue my friend cancelled our movie date. I decided that I deserved some fun so went to the pokies. It was fun for a moment but when my money was lost the cycle of gambling started over. I was so cross with myself. 

Often the gambling venue is perceived to be a safe space and a stress free space to get out of the house and away from the stresses of home. Sometimes, there are not many alternative places to go and socialise which can make a person vulnerable to a gambling relapse:

I could not wait for my husband to get home from his week away. I had been home all week with the kids. I was so stressed and just needed to get out the house and have a few hours to myself. I guess I should have known I would be stressed after my week alone and planned something with a friend for when my husband was home to babysit.

Sometimes feeling down or sad can be a significant risk for relapse. For example, you can get excited about the thought of gambling, which may make you feel better but also increases the risk of relapse. The relief gained from escaping these unpleasant emotions by gambling is only temporary as it is usually followed by more distress:

 Gambling was a way to make me feel better I would sit in front the machine for hours and forget my problems …… that’s why I relapsed. It made everything worse.

If you’d like some help call the Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.

We also have some Self Help Strategies that are freely available on:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/downloads-and orders/?need-help

If you’re struggling with negative emotions, it is a good idea to seek some ongoing support.  A visit to a counsellor may be the place to start.

There is also a lot of support to be gained by looking at the posts on the forum at www.gamblinghelponline.org.au. People struggling with keeping their resolutions about not gambling often have good information to share and you will be able to see that you are not alone in your struggles.

 

 

 

 

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Gambling Relapse and Working Away from Home

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Even if you have successfully managed a gambling problem, some gamblers have acknowledged the ongoing risk for relapse when working away from home. This is because it generally means moving away from your supports, having more spare time, and being in an environment where those around you may be gambling heavily.

See Shane’s story:

Shane lived with his partner and one year old daughter.  He took a job in a remote mining community on 12 month contract to make some additional money for a house deposit.

Shane found living away from his family difficult as the environment was very different to home. The schedule at the camp was tough – working 7 days on and 3 days off and spending a lot of the day underground working alone. At night he was exhausted and only had the energy to eat and go to sleep. There were no opportunities for him to engage in his usual fitness program with his friends which added to his of feelings isolation.

The culture around drinking and gambling was excessive, since it was one of the only things to do. Shane eventually started gambling again despite previously having gained some control over his punting.

As time went by his gambling increased with this additional income but he soon stated to gamble on credit to try and win back his losses. It was at this time that he realised gambling had become a problem again so he contacted the Gambling Helpline.

Talking to a counsellor at the Helpline provided Shane with a clearer picture of his gambling problems. He identified gambling as a way to cope with feeling bored, lonely and frustrated. He’d been taken away from all his supports and put in an environment that encouraged gambling and drinking.  With help from a gambling counsellor Shane started to put things into place and he found that his day to day life improved. Instead of feeling anxious and down a lot of the time, he felt more connected and took enjoyment out of doing things differently such as engaging in online chats with friends and family and doing short courses.

Perhaps there are some things in Shane’s story that remind you of yourself, or someone you know. Give the Gambling Helpline a call on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially to someone who will be able to help. Remember you can access a free service where a Gambling Help counsellor can support you over the telephone even when you are based in a remote region.

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Thinking Errors in Problem Gambling – Part Two

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How to Pass on Gambling Urges

 

In our previous Blog we discussed some common errors in thinking that contribute to a gambling problem. Here are some more types of  ‘thinking errors’ that might look familiar to you if you are having problems with gambling, or know someone who is.

 

One ‘thinking error” is Selective Memory

 

 Selective Memory refers to the fact that often a person with a gambling problem will selectively recall or remember wins, especially large ones, and have difficulty recalling losses (Lord et al., 1975).  Such selective memory can often become a risk factor for relapse when for example, someone is struggling to pay bills they may remember a time they had a big win. At this time the person convinces themselves that if they gamble a big win could happen and provide them with the money to pay their bills. As these irrational thoughts happen the person often forgets all the times they have lost money instead of the one time they have won big.

 

Furthermore, gamblers tend to remember big wins more since they are so rare and exciting, and are more easily recalled than losses (Kahnemann and Tversky, 1982).

 

This gambler remembers the wins as he is caught up in the excitement of gambling:

 

I had a couple of big wins, and even though afterwards I had heaps and heaps of losses, all I could think about was replicating that feeling when I won. The rush was unbelievable and even though the money was quickly gone again I could remember the sounds, the lights…..everything. It seemed like it had to happen again, that I was due for another win’.

Another gambler talked about the bills and how he hoped a win could help:

I got caught up again in the cycle I was going so well not gambling until the bills came in at the end of the month. I did not have enough money to pay them off so I thought of the wins I have had and how a win could put me straight again. But I lost all the money.

 

Another “Thinking Error” is believing that luck is controllable– Many people who are having problems with gambling believe that luck can be manipulated in their favour, through superstitious behaviours or systems (Langer, 1983).  For example, taking a lucky charm into the pokies or wearing a lucky pair of socks. Some gamblers may have a favourite machine they believe is particularly lucky for them, in that it seems to pay out more or have specific features. For example, some gamblers choose gaming machines with lots of purple colours or icons that have special significance for them.

It is important to remember that these beliefs aren’t founded in reality – they are your mind playing tricks on you! Our minds are vulnerable to seeing patterns and making meaning out of almost anything. And the way our mind works is that we tend to remember things that confirm our existing beliefs – we call this the confirmation bias.

‘My mum had a machine that she would always use – even if it was being used she would wait for it to be free. She had a special relationship with it and really believed that it was lucky and that she could tell when it was going to pay out. Watching her, I couldn’t really see that it was any different from any other machine. But she insisted that it was her lucky machine and she had made lots of money from it.’

If you are having some problems with gambling, or have a loved one who is gambling more than they would like, it is likely that you can recognise some of these thinking styles.

A good way to challenge these thinking errors is to work with a counsellor to understand the reality behind them. It can take some time to change our thinking, especially if a gambling problem has been going on for a long time. But it is possible, and there is help available.

Call the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858 to speak to a trained gambling counsellor today.

References

KAHNEMANN, D., and TVERSKY, A. (1982, January). The psychology of preferences. Sci.Am. pp. 136-142.

 

LANGER, E. J. (1983). The Psychology of Control. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

 

LORD, C. G., ROSS, L., and LEPPER, M. (1975). Perseverance in self perception and social perception. Biased attributional process in the debriefing paradigm. J. Pers. SOC. Psychol. 32: 880-892.

 

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How do my thoughts affect my gambling?

    Two human head silhouettes with cogs and gears

Often people don’t stop to think if their thoughts are entirely true, and whether these thoughts are helping them to achieve our life goals. Often the ways people think about things are not correct but they believe them anyway. For example, many people with gambling problems develop beliefs about their chances of winning which don’t make sense. Such as thinking if they continue gambling they will eventually get a big win. When we believe these thoughts they become a significant risk factor for a gambling relapse.  It can be difficult to resist gambling if you convince yourself you will win this time. However, these thoughts are seldom true.

These irrational thoughts become a concern for the gambler with any financial problems who truly believes they will win and be able to resolve these problems. This is rarely the case, as the gambler usually leaves the venue having lost all their money and is in a more serious financial problem after trying to win back their losses.

For example gamblers highlighted the presence of these faulty thoughts:

 ‘‘For me I continually thought gambling was a way of making money until the money was gone’’

 “I might win this time and pay my bills’’

It is also known that many people seek help because of the distress caused by the negative financial impacts of gambling (Rodda,2013) usually because they have lost all their money trying to have a big win.

People seeking help often described:

 “I have lost all my money I was sure I was going to win. I was stupid thinking I would but I just wanted to pay off my bills. What will I do now? The money is gone!”

It’s not until the money is gone that they realize this win never really happens it just a fantasy in their mind.

I had a couple of big wins, and even though afterwards I had heaps and heaps of losses, all I could think about was replicating that feeling when I won. The rush was unbelievable and even though the money was quickly gone again I could remember the sounds, the lights…..everything. It seemed like it had to happen again, that I was due for another win’.

If you notice these thoughts coming into your mind making gambling difficult to resist you may like to visit our website for some self-help materials to get you started. You may like to check out our Gambling Help Workbook that can provide you with some to skills help address the beliefs that drive problem gambling:

https://gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/Self-Help-Booklet-Web5.pdf

One practical first step you can take if you think financial problems are acting as a trigger to gambling is to seek the assistance of a financial counselor. The Gambling Helpline can provide you with a referral to this free service.

There is help available from an experienced gambling counselor you can call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.  Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned about their gambling or their financial problems.  Just ask the Gambling Helpline counselor for a referral.

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Relapse Part 3 – Gambling Urges

 

Thoughts of a gambler

Welcome to the third part of the relapse blog – in the previous blogs we discussed the impact of environmental factors in relapse. In this blog we will look at the urge to gamble and relapse. The urge to gamble has been well documented in research to be one of the most powerful factors related to relapse (Oakes et al, 2011, Oei and Gordon 2008, Smith et al, 2013). Even after recovery, many gamblers will still have to deal with urges that often come out of the blue and increase the risk of relapse. Despite the gamblers best intentions not to gamble once the urge rises it can become difficult to resist the temptation to gamble.

Gamblers report triggers often unique to their own circumstances that result in an automatic response to gamble often described as excitement, an adrenaline rush, a compulsion or an urge. Some of these triggers are having money, being bored, feeling stressed, being lonely, experiencing physical pain and or managing every day bills. Gambling can distract from the stress associated with for example loneliness pain or financial worries.

Participants in a study by Oakes et al 2011 described the urge to gamble as below:

“It is a terrible drag once it gets into your system and I do not know what drags it, probably the thought of hitting that Jackpot or I have to get back that money that I have lost”.

“There is nothing anybody says or does that is going to stop you. It’s a build-up of intensity and a force that you just go”.

Why is this important?

These quotes highlight the importance of addressing the urge to gamble before it becomes too strong to resist. If a person can address the urge to gamble successfully they will be better protected against relapsing. Most people who attend a gambling counsellor find it very helpful to look at specific urge management strategies to help reduce the risks of relapse.

Managing Urges

Just think – if you knew you were going to run a marathon in twelve months time, you would need to start training before the date. You’d need to get used to running short distances, then longer, and build up to the final distance. It would be unrealistic to expect you to wake up tomorrow and run the full distance without doing any preparation! We could also expect along the way that you might experience setbacks, such as injuries and loss of motivation. But if you have the right support and if the goal has a meaning for you, it is likely you will get at least part of the way there in the end.

It is similar when you think about urge management. Urges to gamble can be incredibly strong, and some people even describe feeling like they are not in control of themselves. It is important to remember that, as a gambling problem develops over time, it will take time to manage your urges.  It takes time to begin to understand when you will have an urge, and to identify the times that you’ve been able to sit with your urges without giving in to them. In many ways it might feel like running a marathon, because it is a work in progress.

When you think about it, an urge is just a pathway in your brain that has been activated before by gambling. The longer you can go without ‘re-engaging’ it, the weaker the urge will become. After some time, it will lose a lot of its power and urgency, and you’ll be able to focus on other things. A trained gambling counsellor can provide support about how to ‘train’ yourself to tolerate and manage urges.

If you’re struggling to manage your urges, or they feel uncontrollable, it is a good idea to seek some ongoing support by talking to a friend or family member you can trust. Limiting your access to money is also important when you’re struggling with your urges to gamble.

If you’d like some more help with managing urges, call the Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling. We also have some Self Help Strategies to help you look at ways to manage your urges that are freely available on:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/downloads-and-orders/?need-help

Oakes, J.E., Pols, R.G., Battersby, M.W., Lawn, S.J., Pulvirenti, M., & Smith, D.P., 2011. A focus group study of predictors of relapse in electronic gaming machine problem gambling, Part 1:Factors that ‘push’ towards relapse. Journal of Gambling Studies

Oei, T., & Gordon, L. (2008). Psychosocial factors related to gambling abstinence and relapse in members of gamblers anonymous. Journal of Gambling Studies, 24(1), 91.

Smith, D, Battersby, M, Pols, R, Harvey, P, Oakes, J & Baigent, M 2013, ‘Predictors of Relapse in Problem Gambling: A Prospective Cohort Study’, Journal of Gambling Studies, pp. 1-15.

 

 

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Environmental Factors and Relapse – Continued

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Environmental factors that influence relapse for those trying to abstain from gambling often include being inside a hotel where the exciting gaming room atmosphere, winning jackpots and easy wins become triggers to gamble. For example, a gaming environment is often described by gamblers as tempting with excitement that stimulates the anticipation of winning money making a gambling relapse impossible to resist.

Jim described how he had to gamble and that nothing could hold him back:

When I am in the gambling room all I see is the machines spinning and hear the music ringing, as people are winning over and over again. Nothing will stop me, I cant resist it I have to try and win too.

Jim admits how horrible he feels each time he has to leave having lost his money:

When the money is gone its not fun anymore I have to go home again with no money and think of excuses time and time again.

Carol loved the social interactions of being with people:

It was not really about the money. I did not want to go home alone. For me playing the pokies is an escape from feeling lonely. I tell my self not to go and I managed for a while but eventually I give in and convince my self its ok. I think about the warm drinks and how good I feel and I go again and gamble.

From speaking to many people who have the gaming environment as a trigger to gamble, we can say definitively – putting yourself in that environment is very risky if you are trying not to gamble! It is like putting a very hungry person in front of a buffet and telling them to try and not eat anything. If you have become used to gambling on the pokies when you are in the venue, chances are you will do so again when you are in that environment. There are just so many triggers, including the sounds of the machine, seeing other people gambling, and even things like smells and lighting. The very best idea is to stay as far away from the venue as possible. There are several ways to put this into place, including Self Exclusion (which is a program which allows you to ban yourself from being allowed to enter a venue).

Many people describe the difficulties resisting the temptation of the pokies despite their good intentions not to gamble. If you identify similar behaviours and want to talk to a trained counsellor to about what is going on for you call the Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling. If you like the idea of Self Exclusion you can also talk to a counsellor about joining the program and banning yourself from a venue.

We also have some Self Help Strategies to help you that are freely available on:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/downloads-and-orders/?need-help

In future blogs we will continue to focus on the other ‘push factors” and then look at the ‘pull’ factors (aka protective factors).

Oakes, J.E., Pols, R.G., Battersby, M.W., Lawn, S.J., Pulvirenti, M., & Smith, D.P., 2011. A focus group study of predictors of relapse in electronic gaming machine problem gambling, part 1:factors that ‘push’ towards relapse. Journal of Gambling Studies

Oakes, J.E., Pols, R.G., Battersby, M.W., Lawn, S.J., Pulvirenti, M., & Smith, D.P., 2011. A focus group study of predictors of relapse in electronic gaming machine problem gambling, part 2:factors that ‘pull’ the gambler away from relapse. Journal of Gambling Studies.

 

 

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Relapse Part 2 – Environmental Factors that can lead to relapse

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Problem gamblers often describe their relapses with a lot of emotion. It can be devastating to fall back into old patterns of  behaviour and feel like you are back at square one again. All of that hard work can feel like it was for nothing. Often relapse is described as the most devastating thing that a person recovering from an addiction can experience.

Pia described her relapse after 6 months of staying away from the pokies:

‘I couldn’t believe I’d done it again. After all my hard work, going to counselling, managing my money and keeping a diary of my recovery, I felt like I was right back at square one’.

So what contributes to relapse, and what protects against it?

Some research into gambling relapse has focused on the ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors (Oakes et al 2011a and 2011b). Each relapse episode is made up of several factors that either end in relapse (where ‘push’ overcomes ‘pull’) or continued abstinence (where ‘pull’ overcomes ‘push’).

Factors that ‘push’ a person towards relapse these include:

  1. Environmental gambling triggers
  2. The presence of an urge to gamble
  3. Unrealistic thoughts about gambling such as a belief in luck
  4. Negative emotions such as stress, escape, boredom, financial stress, and physical health.

This blog will focus on some of the Environmental Triggers that can lead to relapse.

 Many people are frustrated as they try to abstain from gambling due to the many opportunities in their environment to access gambling. For example, James described how he was overwhelmed by opportunities to gamble which are “everywhere” making relapse difficult for him to resist.

“If you want to go out for a meal, yes it’s everywhere, it’s impossible to not be near the pokies. I went there for a meal this was just an excuse to go to the pokies and gamble once again”

 Pam admitted when she could not sleep at night she would just get up and walk to a local hotel and gamble. She was upset as she often gambled without stopping to question herself about what she was doing despite trying hard to abstain.

 “It was easy to walk to a local hotel and that’s quite acceptable to go there in the early hours of the morning if you can’t sleep.  I tried so hard not to gamble but the hotels are everywhere and open all hours. The temptation to gamble became too hard to resist.

 Michael was able to abstain from gambling for many months after experiencing significant gambling problems. However, when he gained employment next to a hotel this became a significant problem for him. As work pressures in Michael’s new job began to increase he found it difficult to resist gambling. He was confronted by opportunities to gamble on a daily basis with the hotel next door.

 When I started my new job working next to the hotel it was easy to walk into the venue after work and convince myself I deserved to relax so I began to play the pokies again. When I started to have issues at work I found myself going to the hotel at lunch times to escape my work problems. Soon my gambling became out of control as I could not avoid the hotel next door.

If you’ve identified similar environmental factors contributing to your gambling, it may help you to talk to a trained counsellor to get some support.

You may like to call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.

We also have some Self Help Strategies to help you that are freely available on:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/downloads-and-orders/?need-help

In future blogs we will focus on the other ‘push factors” and then look at the ‘pull’ factors (aka protective factors).

Oakes, J.E., Pols, R.G., Battersby, M.W., Lawn, S.J., Pulvirenti, M., & Smith, D.P., 2011. A focus group study of predictors of relapse in electronic gaming machine problem gambling, part 1:factors that ‘push’ towards relapse. Journal of Gambling Studies

Oakes, J.E., Pols, R.G., Battersby, M.W., Lawn, S.J., Pulvirenti, M., & Smith, D.P., 2011. A focus group study of predictors of relapse in electronic gaming machine problem gambling, part 2:factors that ‘pull’ the gambler away from relapse. Journal of Gambling Studies.

 

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Relapse – Part 1

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One thing to always think about when addressing gambling problems, is relapse. Unfortunately it is a  common part of the change process and can seem to come up out of the blue. Here are some quotes from clients who were asked to reflect on the times they had relapsed:

I was going so well and then I found myself driving to a venue and going in. I told myself I would only gamble $50 because I deserved a treat, after all my hard work. I ended up emptying my bank account and leaving there 3 hours later in a state. Looking back there were lots of signs I was headed for a relapse – but I didn’t notice at the time.

-Eileen

After I had that fight with my partner, I knew I was going to gamble. I went straight to the pub and ordered a beer, then started to bet. I just didn’t care anymore.

-Daniel

I caught up with an old girlfriend and after lunch, she suggested that we put some money into the pokies. I didn’t want to be rude and say no, so I went with her and we spent $15 each. After she had left, I went back there and spent much more by myself.

-Sarah

Even when we have made changes to our behaviour and seen the progress ourselves, we can often slip back into old habits and ways of thinking. If you think about it, there are probably times that everyone has experienced a relapse of a kind. Think about a time you have started an exercise regime, and experienced great results and thought ‘I’m going to keep this up forever’. Then life gets busy, the routine gets disrupted, and we slip back into old habits. It takes a lot of effort to make change stick, particularly with something as addictive as gambling.

Some clients that we speak to will talk about making big changes in their lives when their gambling causes them to reach crisis point. They will put the money management into place, go to counselling, and set themselves goals. They see big improvements in their relationships, mental health and general wellbeing. Then, when everything has settled down again and the crisis has passed, they will relapse.

Why does this happen?

There are a number of explanations, but one is that that addictive part of our brains is really powerful. And once the reasons for stopping gambling are gone (and someone is feeling financially stable again), the reasons to gamble might become a bit louder. Just the same as the part of your brain that says ‘go on, have another chocolate biscuit, it won’t hurt’, is motivated by reward, so is the gambling part of your brain. Gambling is often enjoyable for people, so of course we will have a hard time saying goodbye to it forever. When things settle down and the stress caused by gambling diminishes, we can be quite vulnerable to relapse if we’re not careful.

Some people will have the need to test themselves, or believe that now the problem is managed, they can control their gambling. Unfortunately with gambling, the neural pathways are incredibly strong. People will talk about going back to a venue after 6 months away, and losing huge amounts of money in one go. They might lose even more than they had been used to losing because they had saved up money in the meantime, or hadn’t limited their access to it, believing they would be safe. Unfortunately those neural pathways are there and are re-activated by the environment, by the machines, even by the smells.

It might help to compare this to when you taste a certain food, or smell a perfume or something cooking. That sensation can trigger memories, emotions, things from the past that we associate with it. With the pokies, they are designed so that, when you hear the music, or see the symbols, your brain goes right back into ‘gambling’ mode. The reward centres of your brain are activated and it is very hard for you to walk away. The machines are designed to ‘hack’ your brain so that you’re stuck there. Over time the pathways get weaker, but they will always be there. With pokies it is much safer to stay away altogether, to avoid being ‘re-activated’.

In our next blog we will discuss some ways to avoid relapse and make changes stick for good.

Getting your relapse prevention plan in place of the puzzle, but it is an important factor. If you’ve experienced relapse before, or are concerned about relapsing in the future, it may help you to talk to a trained counsellor to get some support. Click on the link below to find out more:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/take-action/search-results

There is also help available from an experienced gambling counsellor call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.

 

 

 

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Core Needs – Health

dont beat yourself up

Health is the first core need – and one of the foundations. When we are in good health, and taking time to look after ourselves, we are generally more resilient to stress and bounce back from adverse life events.

Taking care of ourselves is also an important part of self worth – by treating our bodies and minds with respect, we are building healthy self esteem and making sure we can withstand what life throws at us.

So how does health relate to problem gambling?

Health problems can be a factor in problem gambling, with people with physical barriers using gambling to distract themselves from pain or disability. Kim, 49, found that after she was injured in a workplace accident she was limited in her activities, and was diagnosed with depression by her doctor. She soon found her gambling spiralling out of control:

‘While I was off work I had a lot of spare time, and I found myself visiting the pokies more and more. It was a distraction from the pain and stress that I was going through with my employers.’

Gambling problems can also affect health – a person who is living with a gambling problem may find that they neglect their exercise regime in order to spend more time on gambling. They can also feel depressed and anxious as debts pile up and they feel more out of control. John, 27, found that his health went downhill  while he was struggling with a gambling problem:

I used to go to the gym three times a week, but when I started gambling again I stopped that. I would eat fast food because I didn’t have time or money to prepare meals, and I constantly felt tired and stressed out about everything.’

Getting your health back on track is one piece of the puzzle, but it is an important factor. If you’ve identified mental or physical health as contributing to your gambling, it may help you to talk to a trained counsellor to get some support. Click on the link below to find out more:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/take-action/search-results

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Personal Growth and Meaning – What does it have to do with gambling?

Stick your hand up for help

Personal growth and meaning are pretty big needs, though not necessarily as immediate as health, home and money. When we have our personal growth needs met, we generally feel fulfilled and stimulated. Similarly, when we have a sense of what our meaning or purpose is (whether that is children, work, religion, hobbies or family), we often feel a sense of satisfaction in working towards our goals or purpose.

It is normal to have periods in our lives when we aren’t sure of what our purpose is – that is a normal part of human development. However, a lack of clarity around meaning and values can often lead to us doing things to fill the void or distract us from the discomfort of not knowing.

So what does Personal Growth and Purpose have to do with my gambling?

Like all of these needs, it has a huge impact, either way you look at it. A person who is unclear about the meaning or purpose of their lives, may have trouble working towards a goal, or a valued future. Similarly, a person who is stuck in a job they don’t like, might feel frustrated and unstimulated.

Steve struggled after he reached retirement age, as he had dedicated most of his life to his work as an engineer, and his role as a father to his four children. After retiring, he felt a distinct sense of discontent and struggled to find meaning or purpose in his life. Gambling at the TAB temporarily filled the void, as it gave him a temporary sense of purpose and excitement. Soon, however, he realised he was neglecting the rest of his life – and putting all his time and energy into his gambling.

I really struggled when I stopped work – I felt worthless and like a waste of space. Although I’d bet here and then in the past, suddenly the TAB was the only thing that excited me and I got hooked on studying the form guide. It occupied all of my time and I felt restless and bored when I wasn’t there. It was only when my kids sat me down and talked to me about what they were seeing that I realised what I was doing. It took me some time to make changes that helped me to adjust to retirement – to find things other than work that I could focus on. I took up golf and joined the Mens Shed. That took care of my time, and the rest followed. Now I feel more relaxed and can focus on what matters to me – my family, my health and my friendships.

Gambling can also chip away at our personal growth and sense of meaning. Thomas found himself gambling on the pokies after he moved to a new city, as a way to occupy his spare time. While in the past he had enjoyed doing short courses and night school after work, he found that gambling sapped his energy and occupied all of his spare time. While in the past he had been very focused on his goals of career progression and learning, he found that as he gambled more, he lost sight of what had once been important to him.

All of my drive and purpose got caught up in the gambling. I had previously gotten so much enjoyment from my studies, but I found myself resenting having to go to class and wishing I was somewhere else. I really lost sight of what was important to me and it showed in my work. When I went back home for Christmas and reconnected with my friends, I realised how much of a hold it had over me.

Do some of these stories sound familiar? It may help you to talk to a trained counsellor to get some support. Remember that right now, experienced counsellors are available by phone on 1800 858 858 to talk to you confidentially about your gambling.

Click on the link below to find out more:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/take-action/search-results

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Social & Group Belonging and Gambling

a699942aMost people have some need for social interaction – even if that is a quick chat with our bus driver, or a phone call from a friend or family member.  All of us have different ‘needs’ for social interaction – very low (one or two friends or acquaintances) to very high (many different friends and social groups). Generally, though, as humans, we do struggle when we are isolated – whether because of illness, conflict, work commitments or exclusion. When we have an unmet social need, we will often have strong feelings of discontent, which is hard to tolerate.

Having some supports around us generally helps when we are going through a rough time. Even in daily life, having the opportunity to socialise and interact with others lifts our mood and creates feelings of connectedness and security.  Feeling like we are part of something bigger – whether that is a family, sporting group or community, can help us to feel supported and connected.

So how does my social interaction impact my gambling?

Just like with your other needs, it can go both ways. Unmet social needs can create feelings of loneliness and isolation, which can put people at risk of problem gambling. Often these people gamble to feel part of a social group or to fill the loneliness and isolation they may be experiencing.

After her children had left home, Nancy noticed herself feeling lonely and isolated. Her role as a single parent had taken up all of her time and energy, and she had lost touch with a lot of her old friends and acquaintances. She no longer felt part of her family as her children were living interstate. She began to visit the pokies in the evenings and on weekends to help fill the loneliness she was experiencing.  She relied more and more on gambling to help meet her needs of having social contacts. Gambling soon became a major problem for Nancy.

I was fine at work, but as soon as I got home and was eating dinner by myself, I was triggered to go to the club.  When I was there I didn’t feel lonely any more – I was somewhere that felt safe, was warm, and the staff knew me and were friendly and welcoming. That was what kept me going back there even when I knew I had to stop. It took me a while to find other social outlets but now I have other places to turn to when I feel that loneliness returning.

Similarly, gambling can impact a person’s social life and friendships significantly. Daniel had previously gambled with his friends on the weekends and on nights out. As his gambling increased, however, he started going by himself during the day. Soon he found that he couldn’t afford to go out with his friends, as all his money had gone on gambling.

I felt trapped in the cycle of gambling everything, waiting for the next pay, then gamble that to try to win back what I’d lost. My friends were always giving me a hard time for not coming to dinners or birthday parties, but I was too ashamed to tell them that I’d spent all my money. I got more and more isolated and stopped hanging out with them altogether. Luckily one of my friends saw me at a venue one day and had a talk to me about it, and gave me the number for the helpline.

Do you experience isolation and loneliness, either as a result of your gambling or another issue? Click on the link below to find out more: http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/take-action/search-results.

You can also call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling to a  counselor.

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Core Needs – Relationship

Gambling Can Put Pressure on Relationships

Issues within relationships can impact us in many ways. Depending on the length and seriousness or a relationship, when there are problems with your partner you will likely experience stress and difficult emotions.

So how do relationships impact my gambling?

Just like with money, it can go both ways. People experiencing problems with their relationships can be vulnerable to developing gambling problems, as gambling can provide a temporary distraction to feelings of loss or grief. Tim’s girlfriend broke up with him when she went to study overseas. In the months following the breakup, Tim experienced emotions of loneliness, grief, sadness – all normal emotions following a relationship breakdown. He found himself spending more and more time gambling online, as a way to escape these feelings. He was particularly triggered to gamble whenever he felt lonely, or saw pictures that she had put up on Facebook:

I started gambling after Jaqui and I broke up, and it let me zone out for a while. I really missed her, especially on weekends when we used to spend most of the time together. That was when I was most likely to log in to my online gambling account and place bets.

Similarly, gambling can impact functioning relationships as well. In fact, a major issue for couples in which one person is gambling, is the lack of trust after one partner has lied or concealed their gambling. The partner can feel hurt, betrayed, and mistrustful, particularly if the damage done by the gambling involves joint finances or assets. Zac found out that his wife had been gambling using money from their jointly owned business and found himself overwhelmed with feelings of betrayal, anger, confusion and loss.

I couldn’t believe the extent of the gambling, and how I hadn’t been aware of it. I felt incredibly sad that she hadn’t felt comfortable telling me about it, even when it got to the stage that she was taking from the business. It took a long time for me to trust her again and believe what she told me. We both had support from a counsellor who helped me to understand a bit more about the behaviour.

Are you having relationship issues as a result of your gambling? A lot of gambling help services offer couples as well as individual counselling.  It may help you and your partner to talk to a trained counsellor to get some support and help rebuild trust and improve communication. Click on the link below to find out more:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/take-action/search-results

You may like to call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.

 

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Core Needs and Gambling: Money

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Having enough money is extremely important to our wellbeing. Not necessarily having unlimited amounts, but having enough for food, rent, petrol and essentials. Often being short on money can be the source of enormous stress and anxiety.

So how does money relate to my gambling?

Just like with health and home, it goes both ways. A person can develop a gambling problem as a result of not having enough money – and having the belief that gambling is a reliable way to make money.

For example, Nick won big the first time he played the pokies, and from then on, whenever he was short on rent or expenses, had the thought that he could make up the extra money by playing the pokies. Nick admitted: “Even though I knew that I’d actually lost thousands of dollars on the pokies, a part of me still believed that it was a way to make quick money. When I won the jackpot the first time it felt like free money, and I never forgot that feeling. I was triggered to gamble every time I checked my savings account and saw that it was low, or when I got my car registration renewal, or a big electricity bill. Triggers like these usually resulted in my urge to gamble escalating which then made it difficult to resist gambling.”

Similarly, gambling can have a huge impact on our finances. In fact, most people seek help for gambling because of financial pressure – whether they are in debt or have lost more money than they would like. Maja started gambling heavily when she lost her husband to lung cancer, as a way to escape from feelings of grief and loneliness. Within twelve months she had unfortunately lost most of her superannuation and needed to sell her home.

“I never imagined that I would find myself in this financial situation, at age 65 – renting my home and with barely any savings to take with me into retirement. I was in denial for a long time as the bills were piling up, and only realised when it was almost too late. Now I am starting again with the help of a financial counsellor, but at least I’m not spending any more on gambling”.   

Are your finances being impacted by your gambling problem?

Gambling help services in NSW offer financial counselling for people affected by problem counselling. This can help to get a handle on debts, creditors, budgeting and bills.

Click on the link below to find out more:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/take-action/search-results

If you would like to see how much you are spending on gambling, have a look at our gambling calculator.

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/what-is-gambling-costing-you-gambling-calculator/

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Is your home life affected by your gambling?

Escaping reality

Having a stable home life is one an essential core need that contributes to our well-being…if your home life is in crisis, it is difficult to go about your daily life.
Home is important because we need to feel comfortable and safe in our living environment. Often when there is tension at home, or we don’t feel a sense of security in our home, it can affect us enormously.
So how does my home life relate to my gambling?
Some people find gambling provides an escape when their home life is unsettled.
Just like with health, these two areas can be both cause and effect. For example, Kendall was having problems at home with her partner- he was hostile and angry a lot of the time and she found herself feeling anxious about coming home. Stopping by the pokies on her way home from work gave her a way to avoid going home for a bit longer – but escalated into a problem of its own:
‘All I could think about was getting to the venue to gamble –when I was there, I felt a sense of relief. After I had spent my money, though, I felt terrible – and still had to face going home to him. It was an escape, but just a temporary one.’
Similarly, gambling can create problems at home. Jim was spending a lot of his time at the casino playing poker and table games. A lot of the games went into the early hours of the morning and he found that he was neglecting his young family in terms of time and material support:
‘My home life definitely suffered as a result of my gambling. I barely saw my kids and stopped doing any of the things I’d used to do as a matter of course – mowing the lawn, helping my wife around the house. I was completely absorbed in my gambling, and it was all I could think about. I felt guilty when I saw my wife upset about it, but felt out of control to change anything. It took me a long time to sort things out at home but it was definitely worth it.’
Is your home life being impacted by your gambling problem? It may help you to talk to a trained counsellor to get some support and get your household back on track. Click on the link below to find out more:
http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/take-action/search-results

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Change

Support

Starting to think about change is a big process.

Often when people begin the process of counselling, we will ask them ‘what is it that motivated you to make this appointment?’ Here is what some of our clients have had to say about the process:

  • I reached a point where I realised I was about to lose everything.’
  • ‘It was talking to my friends and realising that they were all starting to buy houses and go on holidays. I didn’t have anything to show for 10 years of really hard work’
  • ‘I had a really big loss and felt like it couldn’t go on’

To have a look at what other people have said about change, have a look at the ‘real stories’ section of our website.

Often it can take a big event to push us towards ‘taking action’. Sometimes, however, it can be a series of losses, or a gradual realisation that something has to change.

Whatever it is that has brought you to read this today, it is important to remember that change is a process – one that can take some time. Think about a client, Jim*, who has arrived for an appointment with me. I ask him to tell me about what brought him here. He breaks it down into stages:

No problem

I was gambling my pay-check each week but not too worried – I was living at home and getting meals and board for free. Gambling was a rush and I was always chasing the next big win. Mum and Dad would criticize my gambling but I honestly couldn’t see the point of stopping. Plus, most of my friends are in relationships so it was my way of getting out and about and having fun. Looking back, I think I had an overly optimistic view of how likely I was to win the next time I gambled.

If you’re in this stage, have a look at some stats about gambling, including the odds of winning when you gamble

Thinking

My parents asked me to start paying rent or else I’d have to move out. Plus, I got my tax return and it turns out I have to pay tax this year. I had no money whatsoever and was feeling stressed about coming up with $$ on the spot. I started wondering if mum and dad were right when they said my gambling was stopping me from doing the things I wanted to. I had a look at the website and found a quiz you could take to see if gambling really is a problem:

To  check if you have  a problem, take our online quiz:

On the Fence

A friend was telling me about his trip to South America and it got me thinking that I haven’t been on a holiday in 10 yrs. More pressure from my parents to pay rent and I started looking at rental properties – I’ll need a $1000 bond at least! I started thinking about how much I was spending on gambling and it really surprised me.

To check how much you’ve spent on gambling, have a look at our online gambling calculator

Preparation

A final straw was getting a statement from my online betting account for how much I’ve spent over the past 2 years – close to $50k! I could have put that as a deposit on a house or a world trip. Called up the helpline to book an appointment with a face to face counsellor. They recommended that I start working on the other areas of my life, like my friendships and health, to help move my thinking away from gambling. I wasn’t quite ready to stop altogether yet, but they recommended that I download an app from the website that tracks your betting:

To monitor your gambling and see how much you are spending on betting, have a look at our stay-on-track app

Action

I put the strategies into place – got my wages paid into a savings account that I can’t access immediately, cancelled my online betting account and put blockers on my laptop so I can’t access the sites. Have started face to face counselling to work on understanding and managing my gambling urges. Have joined a fitness group at my gym that meets weekly and am making an effort to catch up with old friends for coffee or lunch.

If you’re interested in talking to a trained counsellor about how you can manage your gambling, go to our website for telephone or online counselling

If you would like to see a face to face counsellor near you, click on this link

 All the services are free and confidential and can be a great support in helping to change gambling behaviour.

Maintenance

If Jim is able to stick to his commitment to change his gambling, this stage would be around continuing the behaviour – keeping up the social support and exercise, being conscious of his triggers to gamble and when he is at risk of relapse.

One way to help to stay in this stage is to have daily reminders of how far you have come – this can stop us from slipping back into old habits and old ways of thinking. A great service is the SMS reminder service – a free daily SMS to reinforce good behaviour change

As you can see, change doesn’t happen immediately. It took a few things for Jim to move towards the decision that his gambling wasn’t working for him. In this case, it was a combination of financial stress, seeing other people benefitting from saving, and reflecting on what he wanted from his life. For some people it can take years to get to the ‘action’ phase, for some people it can be a matter of months.

The other thing to remember is that we all have bad days – there will likely be some days where Jim would struggle to remember why he wanted to stop gambling in the first place. On those days it would be important for him to have someone to talk to in order to remind him of his motivations.

If you’re interested in down loading a free workbook to help monitor your change and keep you motivated, have a look at our resources section on the website

The take home message – change does not happen overnight! But it is a process and it can be helpful to reflect on what has gotten you to this stage.

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It’s difficult to stop gambling when you’re feeling desperate

After listening to many stories by those experiencing gambling problems it is clear gambling can cause significant harm across many areas of life including financial problems, depression and relationship problems. These negative consequences are often overwhelming and lead to feelings of distress. Many gamblers admitted to me that its at these times gambling becomes difficult to resist as the excitement of gambling makes them feel better. Gambling then becomes a temporary escape from the pain and desperation, which must be endured after all available money, has been spent yet again.  Despite these harms it is hard for many to stop gambling and are continued to be tempted to gamble as short term relief from negative emotions.

It is normal to dislike unpleasant emotions and want to avoid them as they make us feel uncomfortable. What is important is to understand these emotions will pass if you don’t avoid them. You need help to be able to develop strategies to do this. So if you are experiencing these negative emotions and distress about your gambling we advise you to ask a gambling counselor to help you find support to deal with these emotions.

Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling or you’re significant others gambling that may be concerning you. We also have some strategies to help you get started that are freely available here.

You may like to look at the Gambling help Brochure available on this website that outlines help services and information available through Gambling Help.

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It’s tough to get started

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Many people who have shared  their stories on the Gambling Help website feel like they’re at “Rock Bottom” struggling with everything from financial problems and relationship breakdowns, to  homelessness  and loss of work.  Their words express enormous guilt, sadness, anger, and shame at the end of a gambling episode – sometimes there are even thoughts of suicide. And yet the urge to gamble is still there.

For many people, reaching out for help when you feel overwhelmed and even ashamed of the decisions you have made is very hard.  However those people who have had the courage to seek support often say how relieved they are to have made that first courageous step. They deserve nothing but our admiration!

That step can be anything: looking at stories from others, ordering some of our free materials  such as our gambling help workbook or our wallet reminder card. Keep in mind not only what you have lost through gambling but also what there is to gain. It may take time but it is possible to win back the trust and respect from those who love you.

Take a look at our free material and resources.

Remember that right now, experienced counsellors are  available by phone on 1800 858 858 to talk to you confidentially about your gambling.

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How do you react to a noise in the night?

Are the way you think about gambling and the way you respond to a noise in the night connected?  You might be surprised.

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Scrambling at a noise in the night

Our reactions tell us a lot about the thought patterns that have become ingrained over time in our brains. Examining these thought patterns may be one of the fastest ways to discovering why we are motivated to keep gambling. Consider how you might react if you heard a loud noise in the middle of the night. You might sit bolt upright in bed, listening for an intruder, heart pounding –   or you might think that the cat has knocked over a plant and feel mildly annoyed. Or you might not even notice it at all.

Our interpretations influence our response

The common factor between all scenarios is the loud noise, what differs is peoples’ reaction to it. If you were scared because you thought someone had broken in, you may wake up your partner or dial the police. If you thought it was the cat you might grumble and mutter under your dooner and cover your head with another pillow.  You see, the way we interpret situations has a lot to do with how we feel and subsequently our behaviour.

Thoughts and responses in problem gamblers

If you’re a problem gambler, it is often is the way you think about gambling that explains your behaviour and why you feel compelled to continue gambling. Examples include:

  • Gamblers Fallacy: Gamblers often use past performance to predict future outcomes. For example, if we tossed a coin 4 times and the outcome was heads, one might predict that if we tossed the coin a 5th time, the likely outcome will be tails. You see, we are using past performance to predict future outcomes. The probability of the coin landing on heads versus tails on the 5th coin toss is equally likely.
  • Availability Heuristic or Illusion: The availability heuristic is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that spring to mind. For example, it is easier to recall the few times that you have won compared to the many times that you lost. As a result, you might judge that those events are more frequent and possible than others. You give greater credence to this information and tend to overestimate the probability and likelihood of similar wins in the future.

Good news – thought patterns can be challenged and adjusted

The good news is that we have the capacity to identify patterns of thinking that  reinforce the idea that we can win which motivates us to continue to gamble. Once we have identified them, we can challenge them and adopt new and healthier ways of thinking that promotes the truth, which is the inevitability of losing.

There is help available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

 

 

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Musings of a Gambling Counsellor

One of the heart breaking things I’ve seen working as an intake officer and counsellor at a gambling clinic is coming across the people who called the help line, but just couldn’t bring themselves to come in for that first session. Or those who showed up for the first session, and for whatever reason, dropped out. It made me think of all the people out there, who haven’t quite taken that first step in reaching out.

emotions

For people who’ve been gambling excessively for decades, for people who’ve tried everything to stop, for people at the end of their tether, it can be awfully hard to believe that anything can help. Feeling hopeless, it might be hard to believe in something like counselling. Feeling like this, it can be hard to reach out for help, or to commit to weekly sessions for a couple of months.

And it must be hard. Not knowing what treatment is like. Or even, sadly, feeling ashamed for having developed gambling problems, and not wanting to walk into a Gambling clinic. There’s a lot of shame out there. I’ve even heard clients refer to themselves as “degenerates”.

But once they come in, people quickly find out, that there is absolutely nothing “degenerate” about having developed a gambling problem. Gambling problems affect people from all walks of life. Rich people, poor people, educated people, uneducated people, mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, grandparents, grandmothers, doctors, bankers, builders, nurses, the unemployed. I could go on. The one thing they all have in common is pain. A lot of people with gambling problems have suffered enormously, and continue to do so.

But I know, in the therapy room, that there is no fundamental difference between myself and the client sitting opposite me.

Now for the good news.

I’ve seen first hand, the profound impact a couple of months of specialized gambling treatment can have on people. Time and time again, for the vast majority of people with gambling problems, treatment works.  Even for people who have been gambling for decades.

In most cases the turn around is extraordinary. Seeing people coming in distraught in those early sessions, and standing proud, smiling confidently, just a couple of months later, often surprised themselves that treatment worked.

It’s a privilege to witness, and be a part of their journey to recovery. To see these courageous people, going through such trying times, share their stories, and to have a small part to play in their turn around.

We don’t just sit around talking about problems, though hearing people’s stories can be an important part of the process. Many of the latest treatments, are very focused on the specific thought process which perpetuate gambling problems. In fact, clients find it fascinating to learn about how it all works. I was too, when I first learned about gambling treatment!

So, if you’re suffering from gambling problems, it’s very important for you to know, there is effective help out there. There is hope. And there is no reason to put it off. I urge you to give Gambling Help a call.

For those who think they may have a problem with sports gambling, poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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A minute of your time please

Sit down and take a moment. This is important. Don’t just read through this, rather, take the time to make a mental image of your answers to some of these questions, because you CAN get better and you DESERVE to.

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Ask yourself.

How might life look different if you stopped gambling?

What would you do with all of that extra time? All of that extra money?

Who would you would spend more time with? What would you do with them?

What would you buy them? What would you buy yourself?

Where would you go on holiday?

Which restaurants would you visit?

Who are some of the people you could buy that overdue gift for?

How would you feel?

Don’t gloss over it. It’s an important exercise. Try to really imagine your answers. You might have been gambling for so long that doing some of these things feels like a pipe dream, but it’s not.  You CAN get better and you DESERVE to.

What about if you keep gambling at the rate you are now for another ten years? Take a moment to imagine what it would be like. What’s the worst case scenario?

What would your relationships be like? What would your housing situation be like? Your work situation? How would you be feeling?

There’s NO reason for that to happen.

You’re suffering from a psychological problem which is among the MOST treatable. You have very good reason to be optimistic. But there’s a catch. You need to do something.

You need to reach out for help. It’s not easy to reach out, but in the long run, it’s far, far harder no to. REACH OUT, it will be the one of the BEST decisions of your life.

SO many people have been where you are today, just months ago, and today they’re breathing a sigh of relief, because they reached out and got treatment. And this goes for all types of gamblers, from pokies gamblers, to sports gamblers, to pokies gamblers. It goes for people who have just started to have problems, and for people who’ve been experiencing gambling problems for decades. It even goes for people who’ve come in for treatment years ago, and maybe it didn’t work then.

The fact is treatment has come along an AWFULLY long way in recent years, and the VAST majority of people get an awful lot better, most in a matter of weeks.

If you’re still sceptical, because you don’t see how talking about it could help, you’re not alone. Most people who come in to treatment are sceptical gambling therapy. Those same people are incredibly surprised to find that it works. But it does work, in the vast majority of cases.

So pick up the phone and call 1800 858 858. You owe it to yourself. What have you got to lose?

For those who think they may have a problem with sports gambling, poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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Gambling and Depression

Gambling can take a toll not only on your finances but also on your physical and emotional health. How have you been feeling over the last few weeks?

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Have you been feeling flat?

Lacking in energy?

Have you been feeling hopeless or helpless?

Have you been feeling distant from other people?

Do you find that nothing has seemed to be able to cheer you up?

Are you having difficulty falling asleep or do you keep waking up in the night?

Has your appetite declined and have you lost weight? Or are you eating more than usual and gained weight?

Has your sexual interest declined?

Have you been dwelling on thoughts that your gambling will never get better?

If you answered yes to any these questions, there is a chance you may be experiencing symptoms of clinical depression. I know this may sound serious – but it’s okay because you are not alone and help is available.

Many people experience symptoms of depression so you are definitely not alone! In fact, it is estimated that 1 in every 4 people experience significantly depressed mood at some time in their life. Research studies have shown that being a gambler actually increases the chance of having depression. A study by Cunningham-Williams and his colleagues in 1998 found that, simply gambling, not including any gambling-related problems (such as financial-stress, marital stress) was related to feeling depressed and having depression. Simply put…if you gamble, you are more likely to feel depressed!

This isn’t surprising as many gamblers report feeling down, guilty, helpless and/or hopeless, especially after losing money. It is normal for people’s moods to fluctuate – that is, sometimes you will feel better and sometimes you feel worse. Your mood may lift when you experience something positive and may drop when you experience a disappointment (such as losing money). Gambling can create a lot of stressful situations, such as losing money, financial stress, secrets from family members and friends, feelings of guilt, problems at work… the list goes on. It would be completely normal for someone’s mood to drop as a result of these things. While you are still gambling, your mood is likely to keep on fluctuating as these stressors are likely to still be there. The best thing you can do to improve your mood is to seek help from a qualified professional who can help you with both your gambling and symptoms of depression.

As you can see, it’s common for gamblers to feel low or depressed. But the good news is, help is available for assistance with both gambling and depression. If you think you are having trouble with gambling and/or depression, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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Alcohol and Gambling- what’s the damage?

Australians gamble more per head than any other nation. This in itself isn’t necessarily a problem as, for some, gambling can be an enjoyable pastime. Often, people find that when they gamble recreationally, it is often in social situations where alcohol is abundantly available. It is common practice and, dare I say, emblematic of our Australian culture that the two occur hand in hand.

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So what? Well, Research has shown that consumption of merely 2 standard drinks impacts the rational-decision making centres of our brain and as a result, our judgment is impaired. This means that individuals who drink alcohol while gambling, are more likely to make poorer decisions which can result in larger bets, higher cash-in’s, longer sessions, etc. Across time, if individuals repeat this behaviour, a reinforcement pathway in our brain becomes finely tuned so that this behaviour becomes habitual. Alcoholism and problem gambling on their own are tricky habits to kick, so could you imagine the damage caused by the double threat? The good news is that treatments for both alcoholism and gambling are very similar in nature, and often people find that when they cut down in one area, they seem to notice a gradual decrease in the other.

The most common treatment available for both is Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT for short. This involves a process where the individual works together with their therapist to first look at practical strategies to implement to make it easier for you to avoid anything that is going to trigger your gambling behaviour or substance use. In the case of gambling, this might include driving home from work via a different route so that you are not tempted to stop in to the club to gamble, or organize your finances so that you have less money available to you, or exploring different fun activities to substitute for your gambling. Then the therapist and individual will work together to look at the thoughts or beliefs that are driving this behaviour and motivating the individual to continue gambling. In the end, they will explore relapse prevention strategies to try and minimize the chances of this becoming a problem in the future.

So if you think this sounds like something you have been experiencing, there is help available. You can call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor who will be able to provide more information to you. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

image source: Flickr (creative commons license)

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The Importance of Pleasant Activities

Every day we do things because we have to. Think about it… a lot of our day is often filled up with tasks such as our job, grocery shopping, filling the car with petrol, mowing the lawn, vacuuming the house…the list goes on! While these things do need to be done, they are not rewarding in and of themselves. The danger is, that often we get so bogged down with what we have to do that we forget to do things simply because we want to do them!

Every day, we need to do at least one thing simply because we want to.

It’s very easy to get into a ‘slump’ or get bored in a daily routine that is filled with work and chores. Many people say that they use gambling to deal with this boredom. But actually – there are so many other things to do, and sometimes all you need is a little reminder.

What are some of the things you used to do but don’t anymore? Did you play sport? Play a musical instrument? Cook? Play board games? Do jigsaw puzzles? Go for walks? Kick the ball around in a park? Read books? Go to the gym? Do Sudoku?

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Incorporating pleasant activities into each day works on two levels. Firstly, it really helps to improve our mood and secondly it can lower our likelihood of gambling. Both of these are great things! Let’s take a bit of a closer look:

  1. Improving our mood

Participating in pleasant activities increases a person’s positive feelings. The more someone engages in pleasant activities, the lower their chance of loneliness or depression. This means, that doing pleasant activities makes you feel good!

  1. Distraction from gambling

Many people feel that they gamble because they are bored, lonely or want some excitement. If you have something fun to look forward to in your day, you are less likely to be bored and therefore less likely to go and gamble. Try and organise fun activities for your high-risk gambling times, e.g. pay day, times when you know you normally get bored etc which can serve as great distractions from gambling!

An example of this would be someone who gets paid on Thursdays and usually goes straight to the pub to the Pokies after work rather than going home. Instead, they could organise to go to the gym or movies with their friend on Thursday after work so that they don’t play the pokies.

It might take some getting used to if gambling has been your main activity for some time. But incorporating one thing you WANT to do, rather than HAVE to do each day is a good start!

If you think you may have a problem gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

Image source: Flickr (creative commons license)

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Have you learnt the art of urge surfing?

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Are you trying to stop gambling but finding it hard because you keeping having cravings to gamble? Don’t worry, this is very common! Experiencing cravings or urges to gamble is completely normal among people trying to give up gambling. Sometimes it may feel like your urge is so powerful that you have to give in. The urge can feel like it’s getting bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger, making people feel very uncomfortable and wanting to give in to their cravings. BUT if we learn a little about cravings, we can understand why it’s important to not give in!

In actual fact, cravings are time-limited. This means that they won’t actually keep getting bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger…. they WILL go away! Even if it doesn’t feel like it straight away. The urge will build up and, if you don’t give in, it will actually come back down. If we always give in to our cravings, we don’t give our bodies the chance to learn this information, that is, that the craving will come back down.

Have a think for a moment…has there ever been a time when you had a craving to gamble but you weren’t in a position to? Perhaps you were visiting your family, or at work. You may have really felt like gambling, but did it keep getting stronger and stronger for hours or did the urge go away? Perhaps your mind eventually moved on to something else.

Our bodies simply won’t allow urges to keep getting bigger forever. So try and ride out the urge naturally. We call this ‘urge surfing’.  Relax, take some deep breaths and notice the sensations you feel. Where in your body are you feeling the cravings? Try to focus your attention on that area and become familiar with the sensations. It may be uncomfortable at first and this is completely normal! But ride the wave of these sensations and it will bring you back down.

Doing this instead of giving in to your urge will help you to get to know your cravings and learn how to ride them out naturally. Remember, it may be difficult and feel uncomfortable at first, but you’ll get better and better with practice.

If you think you are having trouble with urges to gamble, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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The importance of relapse prevention

Once you have made a lifestyle change, how do you maintain it? If you’ve recently stopped gambling, you might be worried about relapsing. But it can be helpful to remember that a lapse can be part of the journey as you learn new skills and transition out of old habits.

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Some people relapse several times before a new behaviour is part of their routine so it’s important to learn about relapse prevention. Here are some important tips to help prevent relapsing back into old behaviours:

  1. A ‘lapse’ is not a relapse!

Whenever we try to put a new plan into action it is common (even normal) to have setbacks! A lapse is a brief return to old unhelpful thoughts or behaviours. A relapse, however, is a more prolonged return to old ways of thinking and behaving. Just because you have a ‘lapse’ doesn’t mean you have relapsed. If you have feel that you have been going really well and then think you have ‘blown it’ because you gambled again…don’t throw in the towel! Lapses are normal. Think of a lapse as a way of providing you with a learning opportunity. It may help you to avoid another lapse in the future and focus more clearly on your goal of reducing your gambling.

  1. Look out for red flags

Think about times when a lapse is more likely. When are your high-risk gambling times? Some people identify high-risk situations as the day they get paid, times when they are in financial stress or when they will have family related stress. Think about your life and what could trigger your urge to gamble and identify when a lapse is most likely for you.

  1. Have a plan

Make a plan for these high-risk situations! What could you do when you feel the urge to gamble and think you will have a lapse? Maybe you can plan to distract yourself with another activity such as going for a walk, phone a friend, or try to cope with the situation in a constructive way. Make a list of other things you can do and carry it around with you for a quick reference guide if you feel the urge to gamble.

Remember, lapses are normal and to be expected but keeping these strategies in mind can help prevent a lapse from turning into a relapse.

If you think you may have a problem gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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How common is gambling?

Counsellor Sam blog

Did you know that you know that approximately 70% of Australians participate in some form of gambling each year?  Gambling can, in fact, take many forms. Playing the pokies, playing table games at the casino and betting on horses are all considered gambling. Even buying a lottery ticket or ‘scratchie’ is a form of gambling.

You may think that if 70% of Australians are doing it, what’s the problem?

Well, for most people, gambling is a form of entertainment. Some people, however, can experience significant harm from gambling. They may suffer considerable financial loss, debt, relationship and family conflict and problems at work. 115 000 Australians are classified as problem gamblers and up to 500, 000 Australians classified as at risk of problem gambling. That’s huge!

If someone is only playing lotteries and scratchies, their risk of becoming a problem gambler is low. However, their risk of becoming a problem gambler increases the more often they gamble on table games, engage in wagering (e.g. betting on sports, horses, greyhounds), and especially the more they play the pokies!

The good news is, problem gambling is treatable. If you think you are experiencing problems gambling, help is available. All Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned that their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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What randomness really means in poker machines

You have all probably heard about poker machines operating randomly, though what exactly does that mean? In gambling, random means that we are unable to accurately control or predict the outcomes that will occur next. Randomness also means that each outcome is independent of one another. That is, the outcome of each spin on a poker machine is not related to the outcomes from its previous spins.

While we may have all had the feeling of knowing what will happen next, we do not actually know for certain. We may have even come up with strategies that we use for making future predictions, but the truth is, no strategy is 100% accurate or fool proof. Why? Because outcomes are produced randomly in poker machines. In fact, a specialised computer chip within each poker machine, referred to as a random number generator (RNG), ensures that the outcomes are random. To demonstrate how the RNG works, go to http://www.random.org/sequences. Sequences from this website are generated randomly, or according to no rules.

The job of the RNG in a machine is to continuously cycle through approximately 3000 unique sequences per second. What you may not have known is that the RNG will continue to fire as long as the machine is plugged into a wall socket, even when no one is playing on the machine, or when you are having a chat with your friend next to the machine. The RNG therefore does not allow for you to advance towards a predetermined sequence, and makes it impossible for anyone to know what the next outcome will be.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Why is gambling so hard to kick?

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It’s been months since a win, your partner fights daily with you over it, you struggle to have enough money to fill the car with petrol and the red letters are now coming weekly threatening to take away your beloved car.  As you leave another session empty handed, broke and filthy with yourself you might stop and ask yourself, “Why? Why do I keep doing this to myself?”

Can you recall in detail how you drove home today? How about to work? What about tying your shoelaces or brushing your teeth? Chances are you’ve done all of those things today with minimal conscious attention.

The reason for this being that our brains contains neurons and when an action is performed, say, driving a car, a number of neurons fire to communicate this action. A pathway is formed. Initially it takes effort and concentration (remember the bunny hops while learning in a manual car?) but as with many things the more this action is practiced and the stronger these neural pathways become. And so chances are if you have engaged in regular gambling over a long period of time, you probably find yourself in front of that pokie machine or online clicking for a bet without even realising it.

The good news is that it is possible for you to change. This needs to be repeated. It is possible for you to change. In fact it’s quite important to reread that sentence and to hold on to it as it’s likely you’ve told yourself it’s just not possible for you to change, you’ve tried a couple of times, it didn’t work, it’s impossible.  This is where challenging those thoughts is key. Yes it feels impossible and so hard at times but it is possible. Just as an old well worn pathway through a field can eventually recede and be replaced by an alternative route so can your neural pathways.

No-one said forging this new pathway will be easy. It will be painful. It will be hard. But when you do achieve this getting your life and finances back will make every drop of sweat and tears worth it. Just as a builder will enlist the help of tradies or an architect when constructing it’s good to remember that you don’t have to sweat this out on your own. Seek help – call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Remember that there are many different gambling treatments out there, and many different services that can help. Don’t give up. You’re Stronger Than You Think.

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The role of positive early experiences

People that struggle with problem gambling often ask themselves “Why me? Why can’t I stop?”.

Many view it as an addiction, while others view it as something they’ve inherited in their genes especially when parents or other family members have been heavy gamblers. Others again berate themselves as being ‘so stupid’ and just unable to stop.

Yet, there is another aspect that is often over looked – the power of early positive experiences.  All of us can recall with ease our favourite restaurant and what is was about that restaurant that made such an impression on us.  Same with countries we have travelled to, great cars we’ve driven, or special food we’ve eaten.

This first impression, be it positive or negative, lays down the foundation of how we view that experience.  What is interesting to note is that when asked, most people struggling with heavy levels of problem gambling can recall a very positive experience early on. Be that fond memories of playing penny poker as a family activity or stumbling across a relatively big win early on, both experiences are positive and lay down a foundation that enables the person to view gambling as a positive benevolent past-time.

If you are someone who is experiencing problems with gambling and are struggling financially and emotionally, stop and really consider “What were my very first experiences of gambling? Were they positive?” This piece of the puzzle might be able to contribute to a better understanding allowing you to progress forward in your treatment.

If you think you have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, a gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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To tell or not to tell

To tell or not to tell

Problem gambling can be a very isolating experience. Initially you might have started gambling with friends or family. It was a fun experience, social and quite enjoyable. Now you find yourself gambling alone for several hours chasing those losses. Hoping and praying you can make back what you’ve lost.

A lot of people experiencing difficulties with heavy gambling find it difficult to share what is happening for them to their loved ones. This can often be from a sense of shame, embarrassment and worry that they will be harshly judged. And so the secrecy continues leading to further isolation and in turn affecting your mood and feeding the sense of shame.

What it is important to be aware of is that often sharing something that you feel vulnerable about can strengthen a bond between two people. While it can be terrifying to reach out and let someone know what is happening for you it may help you start to take that first step to recovery.

Many people that report initial reluctance in letting their family or friends know about their problem gambling go on to state that sharing it with someone they trust and respect brought a huge sense of relief and that the person responded with care and support. One person struggling with gambling on electronic gaming machines for many years shared that for her telling her father what was happening finally allowed her to be less than ‘perfect’ to him. Her father responded with warmth and concern. She also said that as she began to slowly tell her friends she found she was building a ‘safety net’ around her.

So if you find yourself isolated and struggling with gambling you might want to re-consider in letting someone know. The following points can be useful to consider:

  • Write a list down of friends and family members that have been supportive in the past and that you feel close to.
  • Be mindful that the thoughts you might be experiencing are just that – thoughts. Those thoughts are not facts and often we tend to exaggerate or catastrophise with our thoughts.
  • Choose a suitable time to be able to sit down and talk about what is happening for you. Ensure that it is private and that you won’t be interrupted by other friends or family members or children.
  • Check with your friend or family member if they have time to chat and are in the right headspace. There is nothing worse than working yourself up to share only to have that friend distracted by something else or needing to leave much sooner than you had hoped for.
  • Talk in person! Text, email or instant message might be tempting but ultimately you cannot convey your feelings and thoughts as well. Also the reply back might be vague leading to further worry.
  • Try and keep the tone serious. Often when we are trying to share concerns with a friend there is a temptation to throw in a joke or sarcasm to make the tone lighter. This is doing a disservice to you and the seriousness of what you are experiencing.
  • It can be helpful to start the conversation by saying to the person something like “I’ve got something to tell you that I’ve been really struggling with. I haven’t told you earlier because I feel so ashamed and I’ve also been worried that you will be really angry/disappointed in me. But I’ve decided it’s really important to let you know because I’m struggling and need some help.” Any friend or family member that really cares about you will want to hear and support you
  • Starting to attend counselling specifically designed to address problem gambling might be a useful first step to take for you before letting your loved ones know. This might be particularly helpful if you are in financial debt and your partner is unaware of this debt.
  • If you feel that you don’t have anyone in your life at the moment that could be a support to you, it’s important to seek professional support-no person is an island.
  • Regardless of whether you have the support of friends and family, it’s important to call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor if you feel your gambling has gotten to problem levels.

Good luck sharing, take a deep breath and go for it!

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Supporting others

Support

If you have experienced problem gambling, or maybe still are, it is likely you have experienced a wide range of distressing consequences. This may include, to name a few: financial hardship, feelings of depression and anxiety, and relationship problems. Perhaps one (and likely the only) advantage of having suffered through this is that you are in the best position to understand what other problem gamblers are experiencing. You can relate to, and emphasise with, the devastating effect that gambling would be having on then, as well as their family and friends.

If you do see others in a pokies room looking upset, down on their luck or agitated, perhaps talking to them and sharing your experiences may help. Simply asking “Are you okay?” may be what that person needs more than anything else. While you may then need to encourage them to seek professional help, you can be the one that helps them make that extremely important first step in their long journey to recovery that you too once had to take.

If you know of somebody who is having problems with gambling, let them know that a gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Gambling under the influence

Recent research funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation has found that 14% of people receiving treatment for substance abuse also experience problems with gambling.

There are many similarities between substance abuse and gambling problems – both may be used to escape uncomfortable feelings such as depression and anxiety, both can result in preoccupation (either with using the substance or gambling), both may be associated with a ‘thrill’, and more is needed over time to achieve the ‘thrill’.

Gambling under the influence can lead to feeling out of control and those who gamble while under the influence of alcohol or drugs are at an increased risk of negative consequences. It can lower your resolve if you’ve decided not to gamble and lower your inhibitions leading to betting more and taking bigger risks while gambling. Gambling under the influence also increases the risk of other consequences such as depression, anxiety and relationship problems. An additional side effect can be depending on these activities to reduce problems such as depression, not realising that it is actually contributing to the very problem you are trying to escape.

If you’ve found yourself gambling whilst under the influence and are concerned about the impact this is having on your wellbeing, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 for free and confidential support and treatment.

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House Edge

Did you know that it takes on average $330,000 to win the $10,000 prize on the pokies? This translates to odds of over 9 million to one. In case you’re wondering, the chances of getting hit by a bolt of lightning are 1.6 million to one. So, next time you’re playing the pokies hoping you might win big, remember that you have a better chance of getting hit by a bolt of lightning.

You mightn’t be surprised to hear that gambling games are designed to favour the house. Some games like the pokies, have a massive house edge. Other games like roulette, have a relatively modest house edge. But the fact is that even a slight house edge translates to massive losses for regular gamblers over time.

Unfortunately, for many people with gambling problems, simply knowing about house edge does not stop them from gambling. If you think you may have a problem with gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

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Reach Out

Reach Out

How many times have you tried to stop gambling, only to go back to it when the cravings get too much? If you’ve ever experienced this, then you’ll know that will power alone is rarely enough to stop gambling.

The good news however, is that is it possible to reduce your motivation to gamble in the first place. “How?” you might ask.

That’s a tricky question to answer. But basically, that’s what many gambling counsellors are trained to do – reduce your motivation to gamble. It’s an interesting process to go through, and works in the vast majority of cases.

So if you’ve been gambling for years, and tried to stop numerous times, or have just recently found yourself gambling to harmful levels, it might be a good idea to reach out for help. It is probably the most important to step you can take, to fast track your path to recovery.

A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand. Getting help for problem gambling takes guts – You’re Stronger Than You Think.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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What does harmful gambling look like?

Problem gambling does not discriminate and can be found in all age groups, income groups, jobs, and cultural backgrounds. Some may have developed gambling problems suddenly, while others may have struggled for many years. Problem gambling is not only about losing money, but is also harmful because of its potential devastating impact on the emotional, financial, and physical wellbeing of individuals who gamble, as well as their families.

While there may be no visible signs or physical changes to indicate a gambling problem, harmful gambling generally means that you have started to spend more money than you can afford, you might ignore work and family responsibilities because of gambling, borrow money or use household money to gamble, “chase your losses” to try to win back your money, feel depressed or angry after gambling, or when you see gambling as the only solution to your problems.

If you think you have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, a gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand. Getting help for problem gambling takes guts – You’re Stronger Than You Think.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Gambling and Emotions

Gambling and emotions

Almost all of my clients have experienced the lowest of emotional lows because of gambling. This typically happens at the end of a session when they have lost everything. Despair about the present and the future, self-blame, self-judgment and suicidal thoughts are all very common in those moments.

These negative emotions are absolutely awful to experience. But what if I told you we can make use of them? What if we can use negative emotions to make a positive change.

Emotions exist for a reason. They tell us what is important, what to take notice of and what to remember. Think of your most important memories, how many of them are emotional? You are probably feeling emotional right now just recalling something important that’s happened in your life. Emotions help us sort out the most important experiences in life from among the hundreds of mundane experiences we go through everyday. This is true for both positive and negative emotions. So what are all those negative emotions you experience at the end of a session telling you about the role of gambling in your life?

When you hit rock bottom, use that emotion! Use it as motivation to spur yourself into stopping gambling. Use it as motivation to make positive changes such as reaching out to your family, talking to a professional or taking on a new hobby to replace gambling. When the urge to gamble comes up, use the memories of hitting rock bottom as the reason to say no.

Emotions, whether positive or negative, are a powerful force. They are also an essential part of being human, which means everyone can make use of the techniques discussed here. Give it a go, use your emotions in smart and creative ways to take your life in the direction you want. You’re Stronger Than You Think.

If you think you have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, a gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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My loved one has a problem with gambling – What can I do to help?

Impact on loved ones

Problem gambling does not just affect those who gamble, but also those who are closest to the individual. As a partner, a family member, or close friend, you may have found yourself experiencing feelings of guilt, resentment, helplessness, and confusion. You may have even found yourself asking whether you are responsible for your loved one’s difficulties with gambling. It is important to know that these are normal and valid feelings and concerns to have. These reactions stem from the care and love you have for the one who is gambling.

Other common questions that family members often ask include; “Will the gambling ever stop”, “What can I do to help them stop?”, “Should I give them money?”, “Can I trust them again?” There is no definitive way to answering these questions, as each family’s circumstances are different. However, you need to know that you are not alone and that this happens to other families as well. Support and treatment is available to individuals struggling with problem gambling, but it is also available to family members and friends, as a means of getting you and your family through the negative consequences of gambling and into recovery.

If someone you care about is struggling with gambling and you have experienced these concerns or asked yourself these questions, call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, for individual and confidential advice, completely free of charge.

To download or order the range of free resources, including Self Help Guide for Families, or to join the new Gambling Help support forum which has a dedicated section for family and friends, visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au

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Let’s talk about…

Suicide is a difficult topic to talk about. It is can be hard to hear that another human being is feeling so much anguish they are seriously considering ending their life and it is certainly difficult to talk about one’s own suicidality – past and present. However, there are reasons this topic should not be swept under the carpet.

In my work I often come across people who are at the end of their tethers. When people come to me they are often in a very desperate situation – financially, emotionally, socially and professionally. Many people in these situations contemplate suicide. I think it’s important to talk about this topic because for every person who seeks help there are many more who suffer in silence. Suicide is often considered taboo in our society and not spoken about, but the consequences of dealing with it alone can be devastating.

When you are facing crushing gambling debts, the loss of family, friends and your job, all can seem hopeless. In this situation emotions usually run high. Feelings such as guilt and shame can be overwhelming.

In times of these, it is important to take a moment, centre yourself and think rationally about your future and your options. Is there truly no hope, no reason for living? Aren’t there things you still want to do in life, people you want to live for? Isn’t there a chance, even a small one, you can turn things around? There are support services available to help you make that change.

When we anchor ourselves from the emotional storm and think rationally, other options emerge, and it makes sense to pursue these other options and seek help.

If you are currently in situation where you find yourself struggling, my advice is to please talk to someone about it. That can be a trusted friend or family member, or a trained counsellor (e.g. Lifeline 13 11 14 – a 24hr service). Talking it through often helps to put things in perspective.

While it is understandable that people with a gambling problem will feel despair following large losses, help is always available. A loss of money, no matter how large, is never worth the loss of a life. Problem gambling is a treatable condition, with many forms of therapy available. Individuals feeling despair from their gambling should investigate to find a therapy that suits them with a person they connect with.

You are not alone – help is available 24/7:

Gambling Help – 1800 858 858

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467

MensLine Australia – 1300 78 99 78

Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800

If you, or someone you are with, is in immediate danger call 000 or go to your nearest hospital emergency department.

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Don’t beat yourself up

dont beat yourself up

Do you beat yourself up about your gambling?

Maybe you think that you deserve to feel bad after a session, as a punishment for going. It kind of makes sense. When kids do something wrong, we punish them, so that they’re less likely to do it in future. Why would it be any different for us and our gambling? So if we go to gamble, punishing ourselves by beating ourselves up about it should make us go less likely to go in future, right? Wrong.

In spite of this, you might think that you deserve to be punished for your continued gambling anyway. You know you can’t win, yet you keep going. This could only mean that you’re dumb or weak for going. Right? Wrong again.

The fact is that gambling problems affect a whole range of people, and having a gambling problem is absolutely no reflection on your level of intelligence or your will power. Gambling problems affect people from all walks of life from bankers to doctors to labourers. Highly intelligent and highly disciplined people can all succumb to gambling problems.

Beating yourself up about gambling is NOT an effective strategy for helping you stop. What’s more, will power alone,  is rarely enough to help people stop. What helps the vast majority of people stop or reduce, is to have a guide, who can help them uncover the reasons why they gamble in the first place. The answers might surprise you.

If you think you have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, a gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Why should I understand the poker machines?

An understanding of the ways in which the poker machines operate is an important part in treatment of problem gambling.

We may assume we understand how these machines work because we play them often or because ‘people have told us how they work’. However, an accurate understanding of the poker machines must include an understanding of probability or chance as well as randomness and the random number generator, which can be complex concepts to master.

This understanding is important as playing poker machines involves financial risk. You wouldn’t buy a car without researching the make and model and the car dealership out of concern you might make a poor choice and end up losing money or in debt as a result.

Even if you feel that you already have a solid understanding of poker machines, learning more can never be detrimental and may be more influential than you might assume.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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What is Return to Player?

If you are a regular pokies player, you’ve probably heard of something called the ‘Return to Player Percentage’. It is something often talked about but not always well understood. It is important to clarify what Return to Player Percentage is, as misunderstandings can lead to problem gambling.

By law, every poker machine in Australia must return a minimum percentage to the player. This percentage varies by state and territory. In NSW the minimum RTP is 87%, though many machines are programmed to return a higher amount. 87% or higher, that’s great right? Well it is if 87% of the money put into the machine is returned to the player. Sadly this is NOT the case. Return to Player Percentage is not calculated in terms of MONEY put in, but rather CREDITS bet. There is a big difference between the two, let me show you how it works.

In a typical session, you can expect to get a number of small wins along the way. The credits from these wins are used to bet more and prolong the session. Essentially there is a recycling of credits happening. What that means is the amount of credits bet during a session is usually much greater than the amount of money inserted into the machine. The longer you play, the more credits you’ll cycle through. This has a dramatic effect on your bottom line. Let me demonstrate with an example.

Let’s say you put $100 into a machine and bet $1 a spin. You can easily play through 1000 spins in two hours (assuming 10 spins a minute and some short breaks). The amount of credits you’ve bet during that session is 1,000 x $1 = $1,000. Let’s assume this machine returned 90% of credits bet in the session, slightly higher than the minimum 87% required. Therefore it returned $900 worth of credits to you (90% x $1,000 = $900). How much MONEY did you end up with at the end of the session? Well you bet $1000 worth of credits, but the machine only returned $900, so you are down by $100 in the end. Since you put in $100 to start with, you’ll walk with nothing.

It is very important to understand how the Return to Player Percentage actually works, as it has a big influence on players’ expectations of what they can take away at the end of a session. In reality only 25-30% of money put into machines are actually cashed out. The longer you play for, the less you can expect to take out at the end of the session. This is why people who play for too long on the pokies often walk away with nothing.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Persistence

top of mountain

“If you are going through Hell, keep going.” – Winston Churchill

Many people with gambling problems feel like they’re literally in Hell, wrecked by feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame. Some feel like their lives are worthless and there’s no way out. Many have been gambling for more than a decade. Some have gambled hundreds of thousands of dollars away. Many feel like they’ve tried EVERYTHING to stop, including treatment. It’s all enough to make you feel like giving up. Have you been through this?

If so, then know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

But there is good reason to not give up.

Gambling is among the most treatable of psychological conditions, even for gamblers who have been gambling at intense levels for long periods of time, over decades in some cases. “But I’ve tried treatment, and it didn’t work,” you might be thinking. The fact is that not all treatment approaches are the same, and different treatments may work for different people. So chances are, if you’ve tried a treatment and it hasn’t worked, it may have been the wrong treatment approach for you.

If you’re feeling cold, and you try a jumper on and it doesn’t fit, would you stand bare-backed and let yourself freeze to death? One would hope not. Might be a good idea to find a jumper that fits!

The point is, that no matter how hopeless it seems, there IS a way out. You might just need the right guide to help you find it.

For those who think they may have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, help is available.

A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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What to do now I don’t gamble?

SUP

For many people who experience problems with gambling, it can become their main recreational activity and hobby. In addition, they may be constantly preoccupied with the idea of gambling as it consumes their thoughts throughout the day.

So. What to do when you are no longer gambling?

If you have stopped gambling or are looking at reducing your gambling, it is normal to feel a bit lost and/or uncertain about what you are meant to do with your time. Have a think about non-gambling activities that you enjoy, which might include:

  • Social activities
  • Starting a new fitness program
  • Pursuing creative outlets
  • Starting a new hobby/taking up a new sport.

It is important to make time for activities, such as:

  • Taking a walk
  • Phoning or visiting a friend
  • Reading a book
  • Watching a movie.

Taking care of yourself and engaging in new, enjoyable activities can lead to new interests and reduce your urge to gamble out of boredom or habit.

The loss of gambling as the main focus of your time and energy can feel daunting. Seeking individual counselling may assist you in identifying what is really important to you, where you would like to focus your time and energy and determining goals for the future. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Losing Big

Professional Golfer John Daly has always been a maverick in a sport known for its conservative image. He is also a bit of a gambler. In a recent media interview Daly revealed he lost a staggering $55million between 1991 and 2007.

For a long time Daly didn’t know how much he’s lost. He thought it was $20-$25million. It was only after going through his tax records he realised the true extent of his losses. At the height of his gambling career, Daly was playing $5,000 per spin slot machines and seven hands of Black Jack simultaneously at $5,000 to $15,000 per hand. He also used to go on two day gambling benders where he only paused to go to the bathroom. So perhaps it’s not so hard to imagine how he blew $55million.

Daly put his losses down to “stupidity”. However he was also quite philosophical about it: “I did it. I moved on from it. I had a lot of fun doing it.” He seemed like a man who has come to terms with gambling. Even though the amounts are extraordinary, Daly’s experiences are not that different to the average punter at the end of the day. Not knowing how much has been lost, going on benders, not being able to stop when ahead, do these sound familiar?

When quizzed on why he did what he did, Daly said “I go in to enjoy myself; I don’t go in to win. I want to win, but I don’t go in thinking that I’m going to win. Because that’s the worst thing you could do in a casino.” There you have it from someone who has gambled a lot and lost a lot. Gambling is a form of entertainment and nothing more. Expect to lose whatever money you put in and never see it again, just like when you spend money on other forms entertainment. Never go in expecting to win.

For those who think they may have a problem with gambling, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Problem gambling and your lifestyle

The impacts of problem gambling are often thought to be purely financial; however problem gambling can also lead to unhealthy lifestyle choices. Gambling on the poker machines is often accompanied by drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Problem gamblers are four times more likely than non-gamblers to have problems with alcohol and four times more likely to smoke than non-gamblers.

Gambling may involve sitting in front of a poker machines for extended periods of time, reducing the time spent exercising or socialising with others, which is important for both physical and mental health. Problem gambling also involves high levels of stress and anxiety, with problem gamblers being 20 times more likely to experience psychological distress. Problem gamblers are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be depressed than non-gamblers and 46% of problem gamblers report problems with anxiety. Stress, anxiety and depression may increase an individual’s reliance on negative coping strategies including the use of alcohol or further gambling.

Playing the poker machines, smoking and drinking alcohol excessively are all unhealthy lifestyle choices and combining them may mean the choice to gamble not only involves a risk to your financial wellbeing but also to your health. Your decision to stop gambling will improve your financial situation and will also have a positive impact on your health and relationships. Speaking to a gambling counsellor can be the first step in breaking the negative cycle of gambling and improving your lifestyle.

A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

(Reference: Beyond Blue, The National Depression Initiative, 2010.)
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Alarm Bells

Ring the Alarm

It might not always be obvious if your gambling or that of a loved one is out of control. Remember, even people with gambling problems start off as recreational gamblers, perhaps going out for an occasional punt with friends over a few drinks on the weekend. No one starts out as a problem gambler.

What’s more, gambling problems develop so gradually, that most people don’t even notice the slippery slope that they’re on.

Do you plan your gambling sessions, rather than going spontaneously? Do you gamble regularly? Do you spend more than 5% of your weekly income on gambling? Do you gamble alone, or stay behind after everyone has left? Do you chase your losses? Perhaps you gamble to get away from negative feelings such as boredom, loneliness, or stress? These are just some of the warning signs to look out for, which could suggest you have a gambling problem, or are at risk of developing one.

It’s best to err on the side of caution, and reach out for advice if you have any doubts about your gambling, or the gambling of a loved one. You have nothing to lose by asking for advice, but have an awful lot to lose by pretending like everything is alright. Early detection of a gambling problem makes treatment or prevention much quicker and easier in most cases. And remember, treatment is effective in the vast majority of cases, even for people with rusted on gambling habits.

So if you hear the alarm bells ringing in the distance, heed their call!

For those who think they may have a problem with gambling, or if you want to know more, help is available. A gambling counsellor can be found by calling Gambling Help on 1800 858 858. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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That’s so random

shuffle

Poker machines work randomly. Every win, every loss, every spin of the reel – completely random. We know this because it’s the law. It’s in the National Standards which are vigorously enforced by governments and independent testing agencies. It even says so in the Gaming Industry’s own Player Information Booklet. So why do so many people still see patterns in the machines?

The answer lies deep within our brains.  Humans have evolved to seek out and recognise patterns in the world around us. This ability has served us well. It helps us make sense of the world and improve our lot in it. It has enabled the development of science and technology that have shaped the modern world. However the same ability can get us into trouble too. It can lead us to see patterns where none exist, such as within the random spinning reels of a poker machine.

Randomness does not sit well with us humans. When we are faced with randomness, our natural instinct is to find patterns even when none exist. When Apple first brought out the iPod with its shuffle function, many people complained it was not random because they kept hearing the same songs. Apple was accused of bias, of programming the shuffle function so that it favoured certain “pet” artists or songs downloaded from iTunes. The fact is a completely random selection of songs will often produce the same songs. This is how randomness works. Each time a song is randomly selected, it is as likely to select one that has been played previously as any other song. In the end Apple had to reprogram the shuffle function so it did not repeat the same songs. Whilst this made the shuffle function LESS random in reality, it had the reverse effect of making song selection seem MORE random.

When our brains play the same trick on us whilst playing the pokies, the result can be dangerous. We may think we can see patterns emerging, and increase our bet sizes and session times to try and win more money. So the next time you are playing the pokies and see a pattern of wins or losses emerging, remind yourself it’s a trick your brain is playing on you. There is NO pattern, ever. The reality is poker machines ALWAYS generate results randomly and there’s nothing you can do to predict the outcome of the next spin.

For more information on how gaming machines work, watch Part 1 and Part 2 of ‘Gaming Machines: Facts and Myths’, featuring Jay Laga’aia.

If you think you may have a problem with poker machines or any other form of gambling, help is available. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

The Gambling Help website has a range of free resources and self-help tools available to download or order, as well as new community support forums where you can share your experiences and hear from others who are in similar situations. Visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/forum to join the conversation.

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Why do I have a problem with gambling while my friends don’t?

Thoughts of a gambler

Thoughts about gambling are one of the main factors which differentiate somebody with a gambling problem from a non-gambler or a recreational gambler. “Why do I have a problem with gambling while my friends don’t?” is often a question that people with gambling problems bring to treatment. The answer to this question can be found in the thoughts you have about gambling or about a poker machine or horse race.

The defining feature of a problem gambler’s thinking is the tendency to overestimate the chances of winning. The thoughts underlying this have to do with a misunderstanding of probability (how likely something is to happen) as well as a tendency to overestimate the influence of skill (how you play the machine or how much you know about a sport) compared to the influence of chance (all the other things that are out of your control).

These ideas are complex as we often don’t question the accuracy or truthfulness of our own thoughts. This is usually adaptive, however can become problematic when our thoughts are inaccurate or biased as we continue believe our inaccurate thoughts are true and act accordingly. This is the case with problem gambling, we often think (and strongly believe) that our thoughts about gambling are accurate.

Looking objectively at the outcome or evidence for these thoughts is a useful way of testing the accuracy of our thoughts. For example having the thought ‘I understand the poker machines and I can win’ could be tested by reviewing the evidence – have you ‘won’ more than you have lost or spent on the poker machines in the long-term? Are you in debt because of this thought? Does the outcome of your last five gambling sessions provide you with evidence that supports this thought?

The focus of gambling treatment is testing the accuracy of our thoughts regarding gambling and may involve providing you with the evidence and tools to change your thinking regarding gambling and your ability to ‘win’.

Knowing how gambling works helps people develop a true belief that they cannot win. Start informing yourself and begin the journey of overcoming your gambling problem today – Gambling Help can support you along the way. Call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858, or visit www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au for free and confidential support.

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The Gambler’s Fallacy – a risk for relapse

New ImageIf you have been gambling for some time and you find you are having more trouble controlling the amount you spend, you might notice that you often have thoughts that make you want to gamble more urgently.    Many people battle with these thoughts and try different strategies to distract themselves from focusing on them.  For example, listening to music or trying to think more rationally. However, what can happen is that over time people can become used to these types of thinking and don’t question them. These thoughts may then keep a gambling problem going.

You might be surprised at how different your experience of gambling is to those who don’t gamble as much.  One reason may be that you have a completely different belief system about luck than these people!

All of the evidence shows that, the more you gamble out of control, the more irrationally you think about your chances of winning. For example, there is the Gambler’s Fallacy – this is where a series of gambling losses is thought of as a sign that a win is just around the corner (Kahnemann and Tversky, 1982). The gambler behaves as if after a series of gambling losses they expect a series of wins (Corney and Cummings, 1985). When what we really know is that there is no relationship between wins and losses!

I had lost most of my pay-check but I just kept putting more and more in, knowing that I was due for a win soon. I ended up losing everything I had in my bank account. It was only when I finally ran out of money that I realised what I’d done’’

‘I am so sure I will have a win but it never comes. I just keep on trying until there is no money left’.

Some people are so desperate for the win they begin doing behaviours that are totally irrational but that make sense to the gambler in their desperation to win. It is not uncommon to visit a gaming venue and see people rubbing or tapping gaming machine symbols, draping lucky items over the machine like a favourite football scarf and even saying prayers out loud. This is all done to try to increase the chance of a win.

‘I love the Gold Coins. As soon as two pop up I know a win will just be around the corner’. 

‘I got to a point where I was just chasing the money I’d put in. I knew I needed to win back some of it because I’d spent my rent for that week. I told myself that if I could just win enough to pay rent I would stop. Unfortunately I did win enough, then put that back in. I ended up spending around three times what I’d lost on the rent, trying to win it back. It was all I could think about and I probably would have stayed there longer except my friends dragged me out of there.’

If you think you might be falling for the Gambler’s Fallacy, it might be helpful for you to speak to a counsellor. Call the Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak confidentially about your gambling.

We also have some Self Help Strategies to help you that are freely available on:

http://www.gamblinghelp.nsw.gov.au/need-help/downloads-and-orders/?need-help

References

CORNEY, W. J., and CUMMINGS, W. T. (1 985). Gambling behavior and information processing biases.J. Gamb. Stud. 1: 111-118.

KAHNEMANN, D., and TVERSKY, A. (1982, January). The psychology of preferences. Sci.Am. pp. 136-142.

 

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