The prob­lem with gam­bling

There are red flags that can alert you if a loved one has a gam­bling prob­lem.

Sunday News - - BUDGET BUSTER -

I once saw a close friend’s fam­ily ripped apart by prob­lem gam­bling. The dad kept his ad­dic­tion hid­den for a long time. He took money from the busi­ness he man­aged. He bor­rowed money from my friend, then mys­te­ri­ously couldn’t give it back. He lied, he cried, he promised to change.

He didn’t change. His wife kicked him out, and their young kids couldn’t un­der­stand what was go­ing on. I hope he’s OK now, but I don’t know.

Part of the rea­son prob­lem gam­bling is so scary is that it can be a silent ad­dic­tion.

Sus­pi­cions might be raised by the long hours of ‘‘over­time’’ at the of­fice, the mood swings, the strange ab­sences. But it could take the debt col­lec­tors knock­ing at the door be­fore all the pieces fi­nally fall into place.

That’s why it’s use­ful to know how to spot the signs of prob­lem gam­bling. The first red flag is dis­ap­pear­ing for long pe­ri­ods of time or com­ing home late, with­out any good rea­son.

Then there’s mood­i­ness. When a prob­lem gam­bler is on a hot streak, they might seem al­most manic, but their ex­u­ber­ance can sud­denly shift into stress, anger or de­pres­sion.

Be­ing ob­sessed with money is an­other warn­ing sign. Keep an eye out for valu­ables go­ing miss­ing, un­ex­plained loans or credit cards, and any se­cre­tive be­hav­iour around the fi­nances.

All these lies and se­crets take their toll, which means prob­lem gam­blers some­times with­draw into them­selves, and lose touch with their friends, fam­ily, and nor­mal lives.

Gam­bling is to­tally nor­mal in our so­ci­ety, to the the point where four out of five adult New Zealan­ders like to have a flut­ter. There are fawn­ing news sto­ries about ev­ery big Lotto jack­pot, and even kids can buy a ticket (pok­ies are the big­gest scourge, but lot­ter­ies are the pri­mary prob­lem for 9 per cent of those seek­ing help).

Ac­cord­ing to the Prob­lem Gam­bling Foun­da­tion (PGF), gam­bling be­comes a prob­lem when it ‘‘sig­nif­i­cantly in­ter­feres’’ with a per­son’s life – whether that be their fi­nances, job, or re­la­tion­ships.

If you’re ques­tion­ing your own habits, you can take the test at the PGF web­site.

Up to 60,000 New Zealan­ders are con­sid­ered prob­lem gam­blers, al­though the of­fi­cial num­bers don’t count peo­ple in prison, or peo­ple who are mod­er­ate- or low-risk gam­blers.

That sounds like a small frac­tion of the pop­u­la­tion, but it’s ac­tu­ally only the tip of the ice­berg.

The dev­as­ta­tion rip­ples far and wide, from poor par­ent­ing to fam­ily break­down, crime, vi­o­lence, and sui­cide. Each prob­lem gam­bler might have a di­rect im­pact on the lives of 10 or more other peo­ple, which means there are prob­a­bly around 500,000 New Zealan­ders af­fected in some way.

IF you need help, con­sider con­tact­ing the near­est PGF branch. It of­fers pro­fes­sional coun­selling through­out New Zealand, with phone ser­vices for those in re­mote ar­eas. It’s com­pletely free, it’s con­fi­den­tial, and it’s avail­able for cou­ples, fam­i­lies and groups, with sev­eral dif­fer­ent lan­guage op­tions. The PGF can also con­nect you with so­cial agen­cies who can help out in other re­lated ar­eas.

While it’s a good idea to learn how to spot the signs of prob­lem gam­bling, the re­spon­si­bil­ity is never on you. If you get blind­sided by a loved one, it’s not your fault. The lengths some peo­ple go to to hide their ad­dic­tions are in­cred­i­ble. That per­son will only change when they want to. Sup­port them by all means, but make sure you do what’s right for you and your fam­ily first.

Got a money ques­tion? Email Bud­get Buster at richard.mead­ows@thedeep­dish.org, or hit him up on Twit­ter: @Mead­owsRichard.

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