06 Feb 2017 | Posted In Thought leadership

Dr Jane Rigbye, Director of Commissioning, Treatment and Harm Minimisation at GambleAware, spoke at the MALG Members Meeting last month (January 2017), offering practical tips on what money advisers can do to recognise and help deal with problem gambling. Here is a summary of what she presented:

The vast majority of MALG members will have had experience of dealing with consumers for whom debt has become unmanageable, often causing personal distress and incurring a range of social and emotional impacts. It is likely that those who have dealt with such consumers will, through their work, have helped to alleviate some of the difficulties experienced by people struggling with their personal or business finances. However, sometimes the root cause of unmanageable debt remains hidden, or can be missed or ignored.

Gambling: The ‘hidden addiction’

Gambling problems affect around 5% of the population, with an estimated 250,000 British adults experiencing severe problems, and a further 400,000 estimated to be ‘at risk’ of developing a gambling problem. Problem gambling is not known as the ‘hidden addiction’ for nothing – the effects of gambling are not always apparent in someone’s behaviour in the same way that the effects of alcohol or drugs are. Often, problem gamblers have hidden their difficulties from loved ones, friends or employers, and may be skilled in keeping this hidden from creditors or money advice workers too.

The impacts of problem gambling

The impacts of problem gambling can be extensive, and do not solely effect the problem gambler. Family members and employers may be effected in many ways, not least financially. Often it is a financial crisis that drives a problem gambler to seek treatment for their difficulties; in Britain this is usually found via specialist services funded by GambleAware. The National Gambling Helpline reported last year that around 70% of those seeking help and support were in debt, and around a quarter of those had debts of more than £10,000.

Understanding the signs and symptoms of a gambling problem

Creditors and money advice organisations can play an important role in identifying people who may be having difficulties due to gambling-related debt, and in putting them in touch with organisations which can offer specialist, free and confidential help and support. Understanding some of the signs and symptoms of a gambling problem, and knowing where to signpost people for further help and support is vital in addressing what might be an underlying issue in relation to a client’s presenting financial difficulties.

The following signs may indicate a problem:

  • spending more money and time on gambling than you can afford
  • finding it hard to manage or stop your gambling
  • having arguments with family or friends about money and gambling
  • losing interest in usual activities or hobbies like going out with friends or spending time with family
  • always thinking or talking about gambling
  • lying about your gambling or hiding it from other people
  • chasing losses or gambling to get out of financial trouble
  • gambling until all of your money is gone
  • borrowing money, selling possessions or not paying bills in order to pay for gambling
  • needing to gamble with larger amounts of money or for a longer time to get the same feeling of excitement or buzz
  • neglecting work, school, family, personal needs or household responsibilities because of gambling
  • feeling anxious, worried, guilty, depressed or irritable.

Brief interventions for supporting problem gamblers

You can learn more about problem gambling and how to address it on GambleAware’s website, BeGambleAware.org. GambleAware is due to release a Brief Intervention Guide in the near future which aims to give non-specialist services an introduction to problem gambling, how to approach conversations with individuals about their gambling, what advice to give them during that conversation and where to signpost them for further specialist support. It will include things like:

  • “Would it be ok to have a quick discussion about gambling? We like to cover this with all of our clients. It’s an opportunity to have a think about how gambling fits in to your life. Do you gamble at all?”
  • “We’re trying to improve our service and offer people a bit more. We’re offering screening for a range of things – including gambling. Are you interested in finding out more; it only takes a few minutes?”
  • “We have already discussed confidentiality but I just want to restate that this discussion will be confidential, in the same way as any other information about you.”
  • I know you weren’t necessarily expecting to be looking at this today, but I wonder what you think about how gambling fits in with some of the other issues that have bought you here today?

If you are interested in learning more and receiving this guide, please email jane@gambleaware.org.

You can also signpost to the National Gambling Helpline: 0808 8020 133 which offers free, confidential advice and support for anyone affected by problem gambling open 8am to midnight, 7 days a week. This service also provides referrals to free counselling services (offered both face-to-face across Great Britain and online), and if necessary to residential treatment for those experiencing severe and complex problems.

MALG members can request a copy of Jane’s presentation slides by emailing bob.winnington@malg.org.uk