Anyone from any occupation can have gambling problems. While many people can enjoy gambling without it becoming an issue, sometimes gambling can go from a fun and harmless activity to a rather unhealthy obsession and usually with serious consequences. Whether it’s betting on scratch cards, sports, slots, roulette, or poker, – in a casino, online or at the track – a gambling problem can strain relationships, other times interfere with work and it almost always leads to financial disaster. Sometimes it makes one do things they never thought they would do like running debts and in extreme cases, stealing money just to gamble.

Understanding Gambling Addiction

Gambling addiction is an impulse-control disorder. It is also known as compulsive gambling, gambling disorder, or pathological gambling. An addicted gambler cannot control the urge to gamble, even when it has caused negative consequences to the person and their loved ones too. They will gamble whether they are broke or flush, up or down and they will keep gambling despite the consequences. This even includes when they are aware that the odds are against them or when they cannot afford to lose. 

Needless to say, a gambling problem does not have to be the case where one is totally out of control. Problem gambling is any kind of gambling behavior that disrupts one’s life. You should know you have a gambling problem when gambling preoccupies your mind, you spend more money and more time gambling, chasing losses, and even gambling despite the damaging consequences in your life.

A gambling problem or addiction is also often linked to other mood or behavior disorders such as substance abuse issues, stress, depression, unmanaged ADHD, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Many gamblers have been shown to suffer from these disorders too. To overcome a gambling problem, one needs to address these issues as well as other underlying causes.

How to Help Someone with a Gambling Problem

help someone with gambling problems

Most times, when you do not have a gambling problem yourself, it can prove difficult to understand what someone with it goes through or even why he or she cannot stop. Now that you have an idea of what gambling addiction is like, and you have someone close to you that has a gambling problem, the most important thing you should understand is that you cannot force him or her to stop or change their behavior; but instead, you can help them.

Gambling addiction recovery is not easy; it takes hard work as well as a lot of encouragement. Many compulsive gamblers end up turning their lives around mainly from the support of those people who are close to them. If you know a compulsive gambler and you really want to help them, but you do not know how, here are a few tips to get you started.

Understanding them – and yourself too

To communicate with someone more effectively, the key is trying to understand what he or she is going through. Sometimes when someone feels they are understood; they are often likely to open up and be honest with you and also with themselves. This allows you to come up with and negotiate a plan together.

While some gamblers may not be aware that they have a problem, the ones who do may have feelings of shame, remorse, and guilt, especially when they know that their problem is affecting those close to them as well. In addition, in their desperation to try to regain the lost money, they may end up developing behaviors that are out of character to them like stealing which can be shocking to both family and friends. All this may cause feelings of anger, hurt, and betrayal, which can prove difficult for people and even you to understand and help them.

Therefore, finding ways to understand both the problem gambler and yourself is a great way to start the journey of helping them. Understanding is as simple as finding out and understanding what gambling addiction is, its underlying causes, symptoms, consequences and then putting yourself in their shoes.

Talk to them about the Problem and Explain the Consequences

Discussing the problem with a compulsive gambler is the next important step. If you start seeing a pattern of behavior that leads to gambling addiction, it may be a good time to step in. Especially if it is getting the person into trouble. To make the approach easy, first of all consider your relationship with the person whether you are close, related, or just casual friends or even colleagues. If you were not close, the best approach would be to discuss with someone closer to the gambler the problematic behavior you have noticed. You can talk to the spouse, a relative, or a close friend.

When you are talking to them, calmly explain to them the consequences of gambling and try to make them understand. Present the facts logically about the damage and harm compulsive gambling can lead to. In the process, avoid being judgmental as they may become defensive when you try to explain things. Try to remain calm and sympathetic since expressing blame and anger will only lead to more problems. If at first the conversation doesn’t go well, don’t push it as you may make the other person more angry or unwilling to communicate, simply let it go for a while and then broach the subject later.

Encourage Treatment and Follow Up

As a treatment starting point, you can suggest a gambling hotline to the person when they admit they do have a problem. Secondly, encourage them to get treatment for their addiction. Gambling addiction can be managed and completely recovered through the use of various therapy techniques. Therapy can also help the person to figure out or get a diagnosis of an underlying condition, if any, and are treated for that. Treatment may involve the use of medication for the underlying or related disorders and in severe cases, inpatient treatment may be necessary. Also, through therapy, he/she can learn to cope with stressors and triggers that may lead to relapse and impulses. Support groups are also a helpful technique to cope with gambling hence encouraging them to join one is good too. 

The road to gambling addiction recovery can be long and hard therefore always purpose to encourage them if they feel discouraged or helpless. You can offer to be their designated person or sponsor to help them face the problems that may arise during recovery together.

Always Be Supportive

Relapses can be triggered by boredom or when the person has unstructured time. You can help with this by helping them learn how to keep busy or spend more time with them. Also, encourage the person to pursue healthy hobbies that will refocus their attention from gambling. You can suggest new hobbies, or encourage them to get back into doing anything they used to be interested in before they started gambling. Lastly, since gambling often leaves a person in a serious financial crisis, you can help them figure out how to approach their financial problems and get things back in order. An important tip before or during the healing process: avoid providing or loaning money to the person since it can reinforce or contribute to the behavior continuing.

As a go away tip, part of recovering and moving on is accepting what happened. Dwelling on the past will not do anything for both you and the compulsive gambler. Therefore, acknowledge what happened, forgive the person, help them with the treatment process and if necessary, sometimes it helps to distance yourself from them temporarily.

Janae Johnson is a staff writer who loves old movies, meeting new people, exploring the great outdoors, and learning with her hands. After graduating from the College of William and Mary, she applied her degree in English to an ever-expanding industry. She has spent years searching for thrills and fulfillment in her work, until she finally found her home at Planet 7.