The problem with gambling
There are red flags that can alert you if a loved one has a gambling problem.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit him up on Twitter: @MeadowsRichard.