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Most people gamble at one time or another, and gambling takes many forms. It covers anything from buying ‘scratchies’ at the newsagent, to betting on the horses or football at the TAB, playing roulette at the casino, going to ‘the pokies’, and nowadays, betting online. For most women – at the start at least – gambling is entertaining, fun, and seems like a chance to win a bit of money. For others, though, it can become a very real and ongoing problem, which can have disastrous effects on their lives and relationships. This is true for women who gamble themselves, as well as for those who have to deal with the problems caused by the gambling of a close friend or member of their family.
Women gamble for many reasons, and at certain times of their lives, may feel more vulnerable, and therefore more prone to developing a problem. This is particularly the case for women during difficult life changes or crises.
For women who are struggling with loneliness and isolation – after losing a job, following the death of a partner, or when children are at school all day or have left home – a gambling venue can seem very appealing. It’s somewhere, usually close to home, that they can easily get to on their own, and where they will be welcomed, feel safe, get a cheap meal, and perhaps even meet a friend.
Some women see gambling as a way out of their financial difficulties. They think that ‘one big win’ will solve all their problems, provide a better lifestyle, buy what otherwise they could not afford, or make up for what has already been lost by gambling.
Women who turn to gambling as relief from depression, anxiety or stress often say that gambling adds some excitement to their lives. It can give them an emotional boost when they’re feeling low, help them block out the problems they are having, or mask their pain.
It’s likely that your gambling is becoming a real problem if you’re losing more money than you can afford, the unpaid bills are piling up, you’re missing work or neglecting your normal responsibilities, you’re starting to feel sick with worry and your behaviour is causing concern to the people closest to you. You’re also probably telling more and more lies to cover up what you’re doing and the amount of money you’re losing. In extreme cases, when they can no longer borrow money from the people they know, some women start to steal. This inevitably leads to problems with their relationships, and with the law.
When gambling starts to get out of control like this, it stops being fun, and starts to cause real harm – not only to you, but to the people around you. If this is the case, you really need to take stock of your situation, and decide whether you have to change the way you’re gambling – or need to stop gambling altogether.
Some women find that the only way to really solve their problems is to stop gambling altogether. Taking the first steps can be really hard, and you may need the support of a friend, a member of your family, or a counsellor to help you through. It’s very important to realise that you don’t have to do this on your own.
It’s also important to remember that there are free specialist services (such as Gambler’s Help) which are experienced in helping people work through gambling issues. What feels like an unsolvable situation can sometimes become more workable once you know what your options are and you feel supported in planning what you need to do. If you do decide that giving up gambling is your only solution, there are certain things you’ll need to consider changing in your life.
You may find it easier to give up gambling if you strictly limit your access to money by:
Gambling can take up a lot of your spare time, so if you plan to quit, you need to find something else to do to fill in the hours you once spent gambling.
No matter how determined or strong you are, you’ll probably stumble at least once – sometimes several times – before you’re successful. Often a ‘stumble’ can be a learning opportunity which can help you move on.
For free, professional and accessible help with problem gambling call Gambler’s Help on 1800 156 789.
Some problem gamblers might be able to keep their gambling under control by changing the way they gamble. However, this takes great self-discipline and a lot of work. If you are seriously considering changing your gambling habits, there are some practical steps you’ll need to take.
Talk to someone you trust: Tell someone you think will be able to offer you support that you are considering cutting back on your gambling. It’s easier to stick to your decision if you tell someone about it.
Draw up a budget: Draw up a weekly budget of your expenses – including your gambling entertainment money – and plan out how you will make regular repayments of any debts you have. Keep the repayments as low as possible so that you don’t put stress on yourself which could tempt you to gamble more.
Limit your access to money: Gamblers who are successful in keeping their gambling under control often only keep small amounts of cash on them – say, enough to buy lunch or pay for the day’s transport – and leave their credit cards and chequebooks at home. On gambling days, they only take the exact amount of money they’ve planned to spend.
For women who are already affected by gambling, family violence may make their problem even worse. If they have a problem with gambling themselves, the abuse they suffer – whether physical, sexual, verbal or emotional – often fuels their need to gamble. And for women in a relationship with a problem gambler, the risk of violence and abuse is far greater when their partner’s gambling is causing financial or emotional problems.
Other women may be hesitant to talk about the problems that gambling is causing because they’re afraid of their partner becoming violent or abusive. If you feel that it might be unsafe to start asking questions about your partner’s gambling or to tell him about your own, it’s important to talk to someone independent. They could assist you to work through your options.
For more information, you can download or order the WIRE information booklet Family Violence: What you can do for yourself and your family.
For information about your legal options, call WIRE on 1300 134 130 during business hours.
You can also join the conversation in the online peer support forum here.
The forum is a free, anonymous, safe online community for anyone in Australia affected by problems relating to gambling (lived experience and concerned others).