Edition #4: Gambling harm

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Knowledgeably speaking

Resolving gambling problems without professional help: the road most travelled but least mapped

Young Victorians have more opportunities to gamble than any previous generation. The state's gambling industry has expanded rapidly since the 1990s, including sports wagering and online betting.

With more opportunities to bet comes a greater risk of gambling harm.

However, only one in 10 people with gambling-related problems seek professional help. It is even less common among young people and males. Instead, many attempt to recover informally without professional support.

New study explores people's experiences of informal recovery

Not much is known about the experiences of people who take the path of resolving their gambling problems informally. How do they recognise their gambling has become a problem? How do they resolve their issues? What are the broader experiences that shape their decision-making?

In a study released last month, Dr Sophie Vasiliadis and Dr Anna Thomas from the Australian Gambling Research Centre within the Australian Institute of Family Studies explored these questions. They conducted 32 interviews with young people aged 18 to 30, and with older adults aged 40 and over.

Download the report:

Journeys through gambling: pathways to informal recovery (PDF - 2140.8 KB)

Missing out, being caught out, hitting rock bottom: prompts to change

Many of the people interviewed said the signs that their gambling was getting out of hand included gambling alone, doing so more often and chasing losses.

However, their approach to doing something about it varied depending on whether they themselves had recognised they had a problem with their gambling (self-directed recovery) or whether they were prompted by other people or circumstances, such as 'hitting rock bottom' or being caught out by friends or family (externally directed recovery).

For young people whose recovery was self-directed, missing out on important milestones in young adulthood was an impetus to change their gambling behaviour. They described their gambling as getting in the way of other life goals their friends were achieving, like progressing in their careers, buying a property and forming long-term relationships.

Signs that their gambling was getting out of hand included gambling alone, doing so more often and chasing losses.

While older adults also wanted to lead more conventional lives, their focus was on being more involved in family and community life, rather than achieving milestones.

In contrast, people whose recovery was prompted by external forces often struggled to change by themselves, and relied on others to support them. When the pressure to change came from another individual, it had to be from a person highly valued by the gambler to be effective. For instance, one young man talked about his employer's reaction when he asked to borrow money, and how this prompted him to seek help from his parents to overcome his gambling problem.   

They described their gambling as getting in the way of other life goals their friends were achieving.

Both groups reported using similar strategies to prevent a return to gambling, including:

  • avoiding gambling venues and websites
  • minimising access to cash
  • finding alternative activities
  • reinterpreting gambling as a negative rather than exciting experience
  • being involved in activities that advance their goals and build personal identity.

Sophie Vasiliadis discusses the results of the study:

View video transcript

What this research tells us

This research highlights that informal recovery processes can be successful when an individual with a gambling problem can draw on social networks for support, find new activities to engage in, and have a vision or a goal of a life without gambling.

For more about this report and other new studies, see recent research on the foundation's website.

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