Gambling may seem like it is everywhere, with a flurry of TV adverts promoting online gambling and how easy it is to access. It is often marketed as having fun playing a game with cash rewards. Those people who are attracted see an easy way to make extra money, but there is another side to gambling that comes with a warning of ‘gamble responsibly’.
Research has shown that gambling is addictive and therefore players should be aware of what they are doing, so that they can self-police their habit. We know from the rising numbers of people seeking help, that it isn’t that easy.
The impact of gambling on families can be difficult and this includes not only the financial cost but the effect on the children’s emotional, social and mental health.
On this page
What's the issue?
One in five adults, who have sought help for problem gambling, started gambling before the age of 18. Children and young people should not be seeing gambling as a harmless, risk-free activity.
The harm caused by gambling is not just about winning and losing money. People who play are at greater risk of getting into debt, crime, issues with physical and mental health, which could lead to losing their job d at worst contribute to suicidal feelings.
The impact on children
One of the most significant ways that gambling affects children is financial. Parents who are addicted to gambling often spend large amounts of money on their habit, leaving little or nothing left for their children. This can lead to financial instability, relationship breakdown, a lack of resources for basic needs such as food, clothing, and housing. In extreme cases, it can even result in homelessness.
Children of gamblers may also suffer emotional effects. They may feel a sense of shame or stigma because of their parent’s addiction, leading to social isolation and a lack of close relationships. They may also feel a sense of abandonment or neglect if their parent is spending more time gambling than with them or meeting their needs. This can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
The stress and anxiety that comes with living with a gambling parent can also have physical effects on children. They may experience sleep problems, weight loss or gain, and even physical symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches.
Children are exposed in the digital world through social media, adverts during sporting events and interactions with friends. However, a child experiencing a parent’s mood swings, lack of communication, or attention to what they need, due to being distracted by their phone and /or gambling, will feel neglected and unloved.
If a parent gambles, it makes this behaviour seem normal. Parents are role models for their child and growing up in an environment that encourages taking a risk for instant reward rather than achieving what you want through hard work and reward, gives a child a negative message.
Spotting the signs of gambling in adults
A sign that a parent may be gambling, is always being short of money, maybe borrowing from others, stealing, being secretive, but then (due to a windfall), sudden extravagance and having money for big treats.
Employment can be affected, as the person who is gambling my take a lot of time off work or change their jobs frequently. Some may not do their jobs properly and may lose their jobs.
There can be a huge impact on mental health as the person may have feelings of hopelessness, depression, or frustration. Personality changes may develop, perhaps appearing more agitated, worried, defensive, or distracted. Relationships may change where trust has gone, particularly with family and good friends. Sleeping and eating habits may be causing physical and mental health issues too.
How to talk to children about gambling
Being aware of the harms of gambling and having those discussions with young people helps to reduce the stigma and keeps the lines of communication open. Addiction thrives on secrecy and isolation. It is important to:
- Avoid making the gambling a secret – talk about what it is and the impact
- Take opportunities to talk about the harm gambling can cause
- Be a role model – don’t say it’s harmful and then gamble yourself
- Use the support available – find out what help and guidance is available
Accessing help and support
It is important for parents with gambling addictions to seek help for their addiction to protect their children from these negative impacts and create a healthy and stable home environment.
This may include seeking therapy, joining a support group, or seeking financial assistance. It is also important for children of gamblers to receive support and counselling to help them cope with the effects of their parent’s addiction.
It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.
Other organisations that can help
If you live in Hertfordshire, Hertfordshire.gov.uk is your first port of call for detox and rehabilitation or other support you may need. The Living Room can support you through free, peer support, group therapy facilitated by trained counsellors with lived experience of recovery. The Living Room provides daytime, non-time-limited community rehabilitation for all addictions, for adults. We also offer peer support therapy groups for adult family members and carers of someone with an addiction. Working with Family Lives and Relate, they can help you to access relationship and parenting support to help you on your recovery journey, to support the whole family.
Be Gamble Aware offer free, confidential help and support to anyone who’s worried about their, or someone else’s gambling.
Gam Care have a recovery toolkit that you can access.
Gordon Moody provide online gambling therapy
Gamblers Anonymous provides support online and in person through fellowship groups.
This article was written by Adrienne Arthurs, Chief Executive Officer and contributions from Debbie Coote, Clinical Lead, from The Living Room.