How to help someone with gambling addiction

It’s not easy for someone with gambling addiction to overcome it on their own. Here’s how you can offer the support that can make all the difference.

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If you think that a friend or family member may have a gambling addiction, it can be hard to know how to approach the problem. Fortunately, no one has to face this alone. There is help available for people who are addicted to gambling, and their families.

What are the signs of gambling addiction?

Close friends and family members are best placed to spot the symptoms of an addiction to gambling.

  • The person may become secretive, especially if they are aware there is a problem. It’s likely that feelings of guilt will cause them to hide the effects of gambling addiction.
  • There will be evidence of money problems and debt. Take a deep breath and assess the damage.
  • Compulsive gambling can lead to other addictive behaviours. This might be due to anxiety and dealing with the highs and lows of gambling.
  • If the person’s gambling is not a secret, you will notice them betting larger amounts of money.

What is the best way to help someone with a gambling problem?

According to Priory, the first step is to have an ‘honest, non-confrontational conversation’ with the person. Showing support is of paramount importance. Try not to blame the person who has the addiction. Instead, try to view it as a chronic illness that has to be treated. Gambling addiction can lead to criminal behaviour as well as debt. Having that conversation can avoid a gambling problem getting out of hand, or permanent damage to a relationship.

Get to know everything you can about gambling, from poker to scratch cards. It’s not as easy to understand as other addictions, and there are many forms of gambling, some of which you may not be aware of. Even investing is sometimes considered to be a form of gambling.

Once everything is out in the open, you can move forward.

What is the next step?

Encourage your friend or family member to self-exclude from betting and gambling sites, venues and casinos. Businesses that make money from gambling have to cooperate and exclude someone who has requested them to do so.

GAMSTOP can help to limit gambling online by blocking someone from setting up a new account or logging in to an existing one. Some banks will block gambling transactions on request.

You may not be aware of the full extent or range of gambling that the person is drawn to. For this reason, it is important to persuade them to consider professional support, especially if they think your understanding is limited.

Long term, the NHS recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for addictions, including an addiction to gambling. 

What support is available for problems with gambling?

There are many organisations that can offer information and advice to help you find a way forward.

  • GamCare has a 24-hour advice line and many other resources.
  • The Gordon Moody Gambling Therapy website has online support groups and forums where people give advice based on first-hand experience of gambling addiction and recovery.
  • The Gam-Anon website has information for families worried about compulsive gambling, including advice for helping children who may be addicted to gambling.
  • Look for inspiration in books about overcoming an addiction to gambling. Saved by Peter and Steph Shilton is a personal story of recovery from gambling addiction and an accessible place to start.

What about debts?

Making a plan to pay off debts, or get help if they are too big, can be daunting. Taking charge of finances with a positive attitude will take the burden off someone struggling to conquer their gambling addiction.

Do not take over finances if that is likely to cause conflict or put you at risk.

If the person has been using more than one account, try using an app like Money Dashboard, where you can view all accounts and transactions in one place.

Can you move on from problem gambling?

As any addict knows, when you give something up you look for something to replace it. It’s important to recognise that the option of gambling or nothing is not very attractive. Family and friends can help to find healthy, exciting and absorbing activities to replace the hole left by compulsive gambling.

Actively spending money on something positive and affordable diverts the flow of money away from the negative attraction of gambling.

With vigilance, it’s possible to quit for good. Counselling may help to identify underlying reasons for any kind of addictive behaviour. As with other addictions, total abstinence is recommended.