In the aftermath of disaster, people may be unaware that their gambling has become problematic and increased their risk of negative consequences. There may also be less recognition of the risks of gambling when compared to other addictive behaviours, such as drinking. Important changes in behaviour may include increases in frequency of gambling, increases in typical amounts of daily or weekly expenditure, as well as the transition to online or remote forms of gambling that have high accessibility and enable frequent bets or large amounts.

Individuals should also be concerned about their gambling when:

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they bet or lose more money than they intended, or could afford to lose

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they gamble to stop thinking about the disaster, or escape from negative mood states

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financial stress or relationships problems have increased due to gambling losses

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they lie or attempt to hide their gambling behaviours or losses from others

The Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) is a 9-item measure that can help to inform discussions about gambling, or can be completed by self-report, and may be useful to identify the level of gambling risk and severity. Example questions include:

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Have you bet more than you could really afford to lose?

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Have you felt guilty about the way you gamble or what happens when you gamble?

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Have you needed to gamble with larger amounts of money to get the same feeling of excitement?

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Has your gambling caused any financial problems for you or your household?

Scores of 1-4 on the PGSI can signal low severity problems that may be amenable to brief interventions, while scores of 5+ may signal more serious instances of problem gambling that would benefit from intensive support or treatment.

Gambling problems also have important effects beyond the individual. Family members and significant others may be seriously affected. Gambling losses often lead to debts and financial liabilities that impact family members, while attempts to lie or conceal gambling can have major impacts on trust in family relationships. Family violence and relationship breakdown are strongly linked with gambling problems, and support options should be offered routinely and where possible to concerned significant others.

Quick tips

Vigilance and regular questioning: Consider direct and regular questioning about gambling behaviours or problems in post-disaster recovery contexts. If you normally administer screening measures for depression or alcohol use problems, then also consider including questions focussed on gambling problems.

Psychoeducation: Be prepared to provide psychoeducation about gambling, including:

  • The varying risks of different forms of gambling, and particularly high risks of gambling via technologies that support large and rapid financial losses (e.g., via large bets or high rates of play), such as EGMs (pokies) or online sports betting.
  • Early behavioural signs or problematic gambling, including feeling guilty about gambling or gambling losses, gambling to escape negative mood states, and chasing losses.
  • Negative consequences of gambling, including accumulating debt and financial problems, relationship problem and family breakdown, as well as worsening mental health issues in the aftermath of disaster.
  • Strategies and hazardous practices of the gambling industry, including aggressive advertising campaigns that promote and normalise gambling, as well as promotional strategies that are intended to engage new users (e.g., via free bets or improved odds) that may be misleading about the true likelihood of winning versus losing in the long term. The primary motivation of the gambling industry is to maximise revenue, and this often relies on individuals gambling at or beyond levels that cause major harm.

Brief advice: Provide clear and direct advice to reduce gambling and to avoid high-risk gambling situations (e.g., gambling when distressed or after having previously lost more than intended).

Referral to specialist gambling treatment and support services: Increase awareness of specialist support services, which comprise flexible options for online, telephone and face-to-face counselling, and may also include financial counselling and advice for family members. Provide referral information for services in your state or territory to individuals who report gambling problems across a continuum of severity, as well as family members, and support individuals in engaging with these services.

Do you know how to

Directly question a person about gambling, and administer the PGSI or brief screening measures?

Assess the impact of gambling on health or social functioning, including on family members?

Provide psychoeducation about the risks of gambling behaviours and environments?

Provide brief advice to reduce gambling?

Provide and support referrals and engagement with locally available specialised gambling support services?

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