How you can tell if there’s an issue

Today, gambling is everywhere. It's heavily promoted and widely accepted across all age groups. This means more people are exposed to it than ever before.

People gamble for many reasons – for excitement, for the thrill of winning, or to be social. It can often be hard to tell when it stops being fun and starts becoming a problem.

Gambling becomes a problem when it harms:

  • mental or physical health
  • work, school and other activities
  • finances
  • reputation
  • relationships with family and friends.

How does problem gambling start?

Someone may start gambling for fun, have some early wins, and then keep playing in the hope they'll win again and experience the same good feelings. However, when they begin to lose, particularly big losses, the cycle of problem gambling can start.

Gambling can be an escape for people who've experienced a stressful change in life, like illness or divorce, or who want to forget about life's worries, such as relationship issues or money troubles. Others may start playing the pokies because they're lonely and crave company.

When people turn to gambling at vulnerable times in their lives, and it becomes a way for them to cope, it can lead to problem gambling.

Young people aged under 18 and people who've grown up in a home with a parent or grandparent with gambling issues have a higher risk than others of developing a gambling problem.

Even though there are no drugs or substances involved in gambling, problem gambling has a similar effect on the brain as drug and alcohol addictions.

How do you know if someone has a problem with gambling?

Apart from losing money, problem gambling affects a person's whole life and the lives of those close to them. If you're concerned about someone, look out for:

Money-related signs

  • unexplained debt or borrowing
  • money or assets disappearing
  • numerous loans
  • unpaid bills or disconnection notices
  • lack of food in the house
  • losing wallets or money regularly
  • missing financial statements
  • secret bank accounts, loans or credit cards

Interpersonal issues

  • moodiness, unexplained anger
  • depression
  • decreased contact with friends
  • family complaints about being emotionally shut out
  • avoidance of social events
  • control or manipulation by threat, lies or charm
  • secretiveness about activities

Time-related signs

  • disappearing for amounts of time that they cannot account for
  • having no time for everyday activities
  • overusing sick days and days off
  • spending increased amounts of time on studying gambling
  • taking an unusual amount of time for tasks (for example, taking two hours to get milk from the corner store).

Getting help

If you recognise these signs in someone close to you, find out:

You can also call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858 or Gambler's Help Youthline on 1800 262 376 for free, confidential, professional advice and support. These phone lines are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you would like to chat live with a counsellor online, visit gambling help online. This service is also available 24/7.

Find out more about the many ways to get help, including help for young people.

Support, advice, counselling

Read more about how we are putting families and friends at the forefront of our thinking in reducing harm caused by problem gambling.

Read the paper (PDF - 630 KB)