Tag Archives: problem gamblers

The Forgotten Friends and Family

Many organisations that work with problem gamblers focus mainly on the problem gambler themselves however, the effects on those around them can be devastating. Just take a look at how people are affected by the problem gambling of someone close to them for an idea of how much of an impact problem gambling can have on families:

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The partner or husband/wife of a PG

  • My PG often causes rows to give him an excuse to go out and gamble
  • My wife is too busy gambling online to attend family functions
  • My boyfriend no longer showers or takes care of himself in the way that he used to
  • My fiancé is moody all the time and I don’t know what to say for the best
  • My husband is often withdrawn and won’t talk to me about what is bothering him
  • I worry about the emotional health and security of my children

The child of a PG

  • I worry about the constant fights my parents have
  • My dad isn’t getting any younger and I am concerned about the effect this might be having on his health
  • I never seem to be able to do anything right, all I get is criticism
  • My mom is embarrassing me in front of my friends with her appearance and behaviour
  • I never expect anything for my birthday anymore but it hurts me when my dad forgets about his grandchildren
  • We don’t spend time together anymore
  • I can’t get the uniform and other things I need for school and I am being made fun of because of it

The parent of a PG

  • My son is always lying to me and manipulating me so that he can get his own way
  • My daughter regularly takes money from my purse and has now been caught shop lifting
  • My daughter frightens me sometimes because she can become violent if I don’t give in to her
  • My son can take off for days at a time and I don’t know where he is
  • My son has lost his job and now I feel that I have to help him to provide for his family
  • My daughter tells me that this addiction is all my fault

The friend of a PG

  • My friend is always asking me for money
  • My friend often lets me down when we are supposed to be going out
  • My friend asks me to lie for him when anyone asks where he is or what he is doing
  • My friend has stolen from me

Counselling, or otherwise supporting, the friends and family of problem gamblers often feels harder to me that supporting the gambler themselves. Each time I speak to someone new to the online service I work for I feel the same sense of powerlessness being transmitted through the Wi-Fi. I hear the same woeful cries of “If I could stop gambling FOR them I would” and the question that pulls at my heartstrings the most… “Is it my fault?”

As practitioners we have to fight through the feeling of powerlessness, there ARE ways in which friends and family can protect themselves and there are ways in which we can support them. Sometimes the most liberating thing we can say to a friend or family member is “It can happen to anyone, at any time, from any background so no, this isn’t your fault”.

Our role is to provide a safe outlet for the confusing emotions pouring out of our clients and give them the information they need to make sense of their situation. Of course the more practical advice around separating finances etc. is important but it’s secondary to the most valuable tool in our toolkit, acceptance. That might sound pretty common sense but given that problem gambling is still not widely understood, or in some cases even accepted as an addiction, those that love a problem gambler might have a battle on their hands when it comes to getting the support they need outside of their relationship with us.

In my remote training course, Counselling Problem Gamblers Using Blended Technologies, I talk more about the specifics around supporting the friends and family of problem gamblers online. You can find more information about this training course via the following link:

http://www.kateanthony.net/cpdspecials/

Thanks for reading 🙂

Jane Fahy (RMBACP)

Turtor, Online Therapy Institute

Clinical Services Manager, Gambling Therapy

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Merry Christmas?

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We’re coming up to a time of year that’s typically very tricky for problem gamblers and the people that love them. So I put together a Christmas recovery journey based on bits and pieces I’ve heard or read over the years, I hope you like it and take something from it.

Christmas Zero

Christmas creates panic….gut wrenching, soul destroying panic that steals the breath from your lungs and leaves you in a heap on the floor….paralysed. You’d managed to save a little, not a lot; to get the few things you wanted to get for the people that mattered most. You wanted to prove to them that you’re ok now and they can let you back into their lives……but the moneys gone. The urge was so strong you felt like your feet had a mind of their own and before you knew it you were stood outside the bookies with nothing……your Christmas hopes bob and weave on the back of the crumpled betting slip you threw into the flooded gutter.

You can’t believe it’s happened again, but you don’t know if you can change…you don’t know if it’s even possible. You switch your phone off and head back to your cold flat alone and on the walk you make a decision. Next year will be different.

There’s hope.

Christmas One

Christmas seems like a bloody big mountain to climb! It’s only been a matter of weeks since your last bet and although you’re feeling quietly confident you don’t relish the idea of being tested like this. “What if’s” buzz around in your mind seeking to derail you and erode your confidence and as you look down you notice your knuckles have turned white because you balled up your hands with the strain of it all.

You don’t trust yourself with money yet so you’re waiting for a friend to turn up with the money he’s holding for you so you can both crack on with a little Christmas shopping…the little you’ll be able to get this year still makes you feel a bit of pride when you think about it. But your mate’s late and the bus stop you’re waiting for him at is over the road from the arcade…sweat trickles down your neck as you pick up your phone and punch in his number.

“Where are ya mate?” you almost shout…as he hops off the bus right in front of you. You breathe a sigh of relief. You did it…you got through it….

There’s hope.

Christmas Two

Christmas means family but someone’s missing from yours. Your son hasn’t called for about three months now and you’re desperate to know where and how he is but when he called and asked for money you told him “No” and now you’re frightened you won’t see him again. You know you’re doing everything you’re “supposed” to do, what people told you to do…but it goes against every fibre of your being. As you lay the table with one less place setting than normal, you start to cry.

A few months ago he seemed better, he seemed to really be trying, but after he lost his job all the fight went out of him and he was back down the bookies as though nothing had changed. He said he didn’t know if he had the strength to get back on the wagon…you said you didn’t have the strength to be around him if he didn’t. Despite the ultimatums, tantrums and recriminations on both sides you really thought he’d be back on track by Christmas.

Your phone rings and you pick it up….there’s a moment of silence and then,”Hi mum, room for one more?”

There’s hope.

Christmas Three

Christmas seems like one big stress…got to get the kids the latest iPad…mum wants a nice perfume and HOW much is the works Christmas meal going to cost? You’re managing your debts and you’ve been paying them off for a while now but this kind of expense is really pushing you to your limits! You wonder to yourself if there will ever be a time when things are “normal”…sometimes it seems like you’ll never escape from the consequences of your gambling.

A single white envelope rattles through the letter box and plops on to the mat….you know that hand writing, and even if you didn’t the word “Daddy” is a big give away! It’s an uphill struggle, and there are days when you question whether it’s all really worth it, but looking at the card you know it is. Today it’s good to be in recovery.

There’s hope

Christmas Four

Christmas has a new meaning since you stopped gambling a few years ago and each time it comes around it reminds you of why did :). You look at those around you and the smiles on their faces when they open gifts you were able to buy for them and you’re momentarily transported back to a time when things were altogether different. You let the remembered sadness wash over you and then pass….and you’re relaxed, happy and stuffed to the gills with all kinds treats.

Christmas hasn’t been stress free…it rarely is….but it’s another year of being gambling free and when you reflect on that, you smile.

When you share the story of your recovery, you give others a lot of hope!

Thanks for reading 🙂

Gaming, Gambling…Gambling, Gaming…Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off!

gamgamb

If you search “Gaming” in Google the first listing is for a gambling website…and in my search for clarification over what is considered “gaming” and what’s considered “gambling” I stumbled across a number of terms:

  • Social Gaming
  • Real Money Gaming
  • Online Gambling
  • Online Gaming
  • Social Casinos
  • Closed Loop Gaming

And more…

I looked at a few different sources including recent articles in marketme and WhaTech to try and get to the bottom of what’s meant by all of these terms but struggled to find a definitive answer because sometimes the terms were used interchangeably to refer to the same activity. I also wanted to better understand the potential relationship between gaming and gambling and to think about where I stand on the issue of regulation.

So I’m going to start by looking at games played via social networking that bear no resemblance to well known gambling activities (“Social” or “Closed loop” gaming)…I’m referring to games like Candy Crush and Bubble Witch Saga which I’m sure many of you will have heard of.  You can choose to play these games without ever spending a penny or you can make in game purchases for different content or “lives” if you want to.  The games are colourful, lively and loud and usually repetitive in nature which can create a soothing effect potentially creating an almost hypnotic state over time.  Now, if a player chooses not to spend any money, the amount of time spent on a game is usually limited by the skill of the individual playing….for instance, if you fail to complete a level on Candy Crush, you lose a life and if you lose five lives you have to wait for a life to “refresh” or ask Facebook friends to send you a life before you can continue.  This forces individuals’ to take a break from the game…but you can buy more lives if you want to carry on.  I guess there could be an argument here that says if you are paying for lives you are already at risk of using the game excessively, so can we therefore develop algorithms that use payment amounts and frequency on these games as an indicator of potential problems as is already the case with online gambling?  Something to be considered by treatment providers and potential future regulators perhaps…

What about the games that DO mimic gambling activities but don’t require money to play (Social casinos) like roulette, slots and poker….what, if any, is the relationship between these games and gambling for money?  The sights and sounds are the same…in game money or “tokens” are accrued and lost.  Players may feel a buzz or experience a sense of winning and losing, as with gambling, although it could be argued that these feelings are less intense if no money is involved.  I have previously seen research, conducted by the BBC, which highlighted the differences in player style when playing for free and playing for money…it would seem to indicate that people take more risks when they’re not playing for money (which makes sense).  A change in playing style would potentially change the outcome of games leading the player to think they may win, or lose, more than they actually would if they switched from free play to real money gaming.  These kinds of inconsistencies have occasionally led to conflicts between players and gambling companies because players feel the odds have changed and the game is no longer fair.  In my opinion, more research needs to be conducted to review the number of players jumping from free play to real money gaming, paying particular attention to problem gamblers in order to ascertain when they began to develop a problem and what indicators may have existed in the early stages of the problem that could have been acted upon in some way.

As we can already see, there are many similarities between gaming and gambling both emotionally and visually and, certainly in the case of social gaming, the potential exists to lose/spend a lot of money, as well as time, while playing.  However, the potential also exists to engage in both recreationally and without incident.  Players can exist in any of the following states:

  • Playing for enjoyment – No problem
  • Playing excessively/compulsively – Problem with gaming
  • Switched to gambling for enjoyment – No problem
  • Switched to gambling excessively compulsively – Problem with gambling

So I guess the question is…would excessive gaming lead to excessive gambling if a player were to make the switch? And is a gamer who’s been playing responsibly likely to develop a gambling problem if they make the switch?  The two are so similar that my feeling would be similar behaviours would carry over.  Conversely, can a problem gambler make the switch to responsible gamer?  The problem gamblers I’ve worked with would give a definitive “NO” in answer to that question!

I don’t want anyone reading to think I’m anti gaming, or indeed anti gambling, because that’s certainly not the case.  I have been in the past, and still consider myself to be, a gamer…I’ve lost myself in Candy Crush from time to time and I’ve spent more than a few hours waging war on ogres in World of Warcraft  🙂   I’ve developed many friendships, experienced joy and excitement and fended off boredom by playing games responsibly and I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone from doing the same thing.   I do however feel that the suppliers of any substance or activity that has the potential to become addictive have a responsibility to support treatment and education and adhere to some form of regulation.  Whether or not gaming leads to a switch to real money gaming, and in my opinion it’s a real possibility for some, gaming itself can create altered states, it can be used as a form of unhealthy escape and it can create emotional and financial hardship so for those reasons more research needs to be conducted on how to help excessive gamers.

If it’s found that social gaming does indeed lead to a net increase in the number of people gambling we have to consider that as the number of gamblers increases, so does the number of problem gamblers. So what is being put in place to cope with the influx of people into treatment?

Thanks for reading!  🙂

World Suicide Prevention day

It’s world suicide prevention day today so I thought I’d pen (type) a few words on the way in which we can work safely with suicidal clients online.  I’ll be talking about problem gamblers specifically as they’re the client group I work online with.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that problem gamblers can sometimes be suicidal….people who are addicted to gambling are often able to hide the addiction for quite some time, maybe even years, from those closest to them.  If you’re in a relationship with a problem gambler you might get the sense that something is wrong…your partner might be distant, anxious, depressed and even have angry outbursts for reasons you can’t identify but none of these things would necessarily lead you to the conclusion that he or she was a problem gambler.

Thoughts of suicide thrive if the thinker feels no one cares and in their distorted view of the world a problem gambler might interpret a loved one’s lack of understanding as apathy.  Of course it’s pretty difficult to show understanding regarding a situation you know nothing about!  Another contributing factor to the consideration of suicide as an option for many problem gamblers is the fear of being “found out”.  Think about it….you’ve spent a long time hiding your addiction….getting rid of the betting slips…clearing your browser history….taking the bills away and putting them somewhere “safe” before they even have a chance to hit the mat and you’ve managed to keep all of your balls in the air BUT you know that tomorrow you’re going to get caught.

If a problem gambler knows that the secret is going to come out because there is some form of communication on the horizon that can’t be controlled heading in the direction of a partner, such as a call to the bank the partner intends to make to find out just what the hell is going on, they may feel utterly desperate!  The idea of facing someone they love as the extent of the chaos they’ve created is unearthed before they’re very eyes can be too much to bear for some and there only seems to be one way out.

I work for an international online counselling and support site for problem gamblers and sometimes I “meet” people who have reached the exact state of mind I’ve described.  Now, I don’t want to go into the ins and outs of what can and can’t be done to get help to people in distress when working online because although there may be a few things, involving IP addresses etc, they are very limited if you’re working on a “drop in” basis to provide emotional support.  Obviously if you’re working in a structured way, with a contract and details of Doctors and next of kin, which you would have if counselling someone, you have greater control over what you can and can’t do.  So, for the purpose of this Blog, let’s focus on the people who click a button and get through to us without having had any prior contact with our staff team.

First and foremost and in the words of Hitchhikers Guide….DON’T PANIC! If you receive contact from someone who implies or explicitly states that they are suicidal.  The service user is seeking help by speaking to you which is a positive thing.   There’s no empirical or anecdotal evidence to suggest that talking about suicide or indeed naming it, if service user talks about “not wanting to carry on” etc, will increase the likelihood of a suicide attempt.  In fact, quite the opposite is true as many people report feeling relieved at being able to explore their feelings about the subject.

Discussions around suicide should be handled sensitively and if your client hasn’t mentioned the word “suicide” explicitly, word your questions carefully and seek clarification about what they’re trying to tell you.  Questions such as “You seem to be saying to me that you don’t want to be here anymore, would I be right in thinking you’re having thoughts about ending your life?” can offer the client the opportunity to open up because it shows them suicide isn’t a “taboo” subject.  You don’t want the client to think they’ll freak you out if they tell you what’s really going on after all.

When a suicide risk has been identified the first step to take is to find out where they are and who, if anyone, is with them.  The primary aim of the conversation at this point is to encourage the client to get some face to face help…whether that’s from a friend; family member, mental health professional or doctor is irrelevant.  If the caller tells you they’re alone and have no one to turn to it’s important to make sure they have a link or telephone number for services such as the Samaritans or Befrienders (outside the UK) before the call comes to a close.  If you build up a rapport they may even give you an address or telephone number you can use to get help to them if it comes to that, which in my experience it very rarely does.

One thing you can do to take the pressure off both of you is to employ a brief “no harm” contract that applies to that particular session.  This means that the service user agrees not to act on suicidal thoughts during or immediately after the session and they agree to access additional support from a friend, family member or organisation following the session.  Without this commitment from the service user you may struggle to have peace of mind and should decide for yourself if you can be effective with such uncertainty in the air.

Some suicidal thoughts are fleeting and vague and occur only when an individual is in crisis whereas other thoughts can be constant and well considered.  In order to help the service user to better understand their feelings you could ask them to rate the intensity of their suicidal thoughts on a scale of 0 to 10 (0 being no strong thoughts and 10 being a determination to act on their feelings in the immediate future).  This will help you determine the level of risk you’re working with.

Another method of assessing risk is to ask the client whether they feel this way as a result of a prolonged period of depression or whether they may be feeling this way as a response to another situation which will pass.  If the feelings are being driven by current circumstances allow the client to explore the possibility of resisting the feelings until their circumstances change.  The emphasis here should be on the way in which circumstances change, has the service user considered coping strategies that are flexible and can change along with their situation instead of employing such a permanent solution?  You can do this by looking at different scenarios with the service user such as talking to the people in their lives that they find to be supportive and helpful.  If the clients’ feelings appear to be more prolonged, encourage them to access a mental health service or their GP to assess whether they may be clinically depressed and identify potential treatment.  Whether clinical or reactive we know that depression can be treated and the low feelings will eventually pass, so try to focus the client on the fact that however painful, their feelings are temporary and death is permanent so wouldn’t it be more logical to look for ways in which to cope until they pass?

Encourage the service user to look at times in the past when they may have felt this way, ask them about what coping strategies they employed before in order to survive.  When working with our client group we have to be aware that the answer to this question may be “I gambled” in which case exploration of other methods of coping in a healthy way should take place.

Always remember that if someone decides to end their life it’s their decision.  I know it’s sad and monumentally frustrating but there are no magic words we, or anyone else, can pluck out of the air to “fix” anyone.  By letting a person talk about suicide openly and without judgement you’re giving them something very special, you’re accepting them….and maybe that’s what they need.

When ending the call the service user should have a clear idea of what to do next and what methods of support are available to them and you should make a note of your experience so you can talk it through with your clinical supervisor.