Is there someone close to you who is gambling too much? Does that make you concerned, frustrated and sad? Have you tried in vain to get the person to change his or her behaviour? Do you feel powerless and don’t know how to handle the situation? Here are a few tips on what you as a family member can do:
Call, email or chat anonymously
1. Speak to someone about the problems; contact the Support Line
A gambler wants to keep the situation secret because he or she is ashamed, and it’s easy for relatives to do the same. But it isn’t the gambler who decides who should find out about it. So make sure you have someone to talk to about the problems. To get professional help, a first step can be to contact the Support Line, which is there for both gamblers and their families. This gives you an opportunity to talk with someone and get tips on what you can do to bring about a change. You can phone, email or chat on the Support Line, it doesn’t cost anything and you can remain anonymous if you wish.
2. Don’t forget to look after yourself
For a relative of a person with gambling problems, it’s easy to forget to look after yourself and instead focus all your energy on trying to change the gambler. But to be able to look after and support someone else, you must first of all look after yourself.
3. Take control of the finances
Support the gambler emotionally – not financially. Don’t give him or her any money for gambling. Make sure you take control of the finances, seeking help with this if necessary. The Swedish Consumer Agency can help you to draw up a household budget and get an overview over the changes needed, as well as finding a budget advisor in your municipality. It’s also good to know that you as a relative cannot have a gambler blocked from gambling, but you can encourage the gambler to exclude himself or herself via Svenska Spel’s Customer Service.
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Common pitfalls to avoid
Here are some tips.
Use ultimatums in a constructive way. It is common that ultimatums are set that can subsequently not be carried out. This is generally due to the fact as a relative you set ultimatums such as: “if you gamble again I’ll leave you”, only to not then manage to carry it out because you don’t actually want to leave the gambler. It is better to plan a series of ultimatums with an increasing level of consequence if the gambling takes place. For example, you can stay with a friend for a weekend, which is more realistic than separating. Meanwhile, the gambler can clearly see what she or he has to choose between.
By communicating empathy to reduce resistance through affirmative reflections, we can neutralise conflicts, e.g.: “you want to but it’s hard to entirely abandon the gambling”. If the gambler has several relapses or has tried but failed on several occasions in the past, say how strong it is to make a new attempt. Also confirm what was good in the previous attempts to cut down on gambling. Perhaps there have been other challenges in life that the gambler has got through in the past. Remind the gambler about them and argue that the gambler has the capacity to get through challenges.
All statements that hold the gambler to account for his or her behaviour produce explanatory justifications. It is better to avoid placing blame and instead to communicate empathy.
Only focus on the past if there is anything to learn from previous relapses. Otherwise it is better to focus on the “here and now” and to start from current conditions and look forward, and which solutions would give you the future you want to have. If there is a relapse you can ask the gambler “What can you learn from what has happened?”, ”What does it mean that you need to do now to ensure that there isn’t a repetition?” ”What do you want your future to be like?” ”What do you need to change today for that future to come about?”
Avoid “you-messages”, e.g.: “You just don’t give a damn about how your behaviour affects others. This generally leads to justification, explanations or excuses, which is not a satisfactory way to achieve cooperation and a solution. Instead ask how the gambler him or herself thinks that others are affected by their gambling, and how he or she would actually like to affect these people.
Avoid having the same conversation several times by summarising what you have arrived at together: write down and read aloud, are you in agreement on what you arrived at? When the next conversation starts you can read out the notes from the previous conversation and start cooperating together immediately.
Avoid questions that cannot be answered with a ”yes” or ”no”. We want the gambler to reason as much as possible about advantages and disadvantages surrounding his or her gambling. If we ask yes or no questions, the gambler will not develop and articulate his or her own arguments and reasons to change, in other words, not develop his or her motivation. It also becomes very clear to the gambler that the relative has an opinion behind his or her questions.
Don’t give advice or say what you think the gambler should do. When the relative asserts things through argument, facts, opinions, tips, solutions or advice, it triggers “resistance talk” in the gambler, which reduces the gambler’s motivation to change. Start by asking whether the gambler is interested in talking about gambling. If not, then it might be better to save your energy until an occasion when the gambler is more receptive.