Do you know someone for whom gambling has become more than just a casual past time? Are you unsure about what you can do to help them? Read our practical guide to helping a friend or family member with a gambling problem. Find out how to talk to them and what sort of further help and support is available for gambling addiction.

To begin with, if you are reading this article you probably already suspect your friend or loved one has a gambling problem. You may even be completely certain that they have an addiction to gambling. This is a difficult subject to acknowledge, and not an easy one to bring up. Causing conflict, arguments and losing a friendship or relationship are all distinct (and understandable) fears you may be experiencing.

You are not the only one to have faced this difficulty. Every week we hear from many people just like yourself who are worried about their loved ones. Please know that if you need a helping hand, you can contact our free and confidential family and friends support service, The Six to Ten Project. Free counselling is also available from Ara for anyone affected by problematic gambling. See the details and form at the bottom of this page to get in touch, and read on to find out how you can make a start at helping your loved one. We will support you through every step of the way of helping someone you know with a gambling problem.

Signs and Symptoms that your friend or family member has a gambling problem

Clearly, plenty of people gamble without it ever becoming an issue. But for a significant minority, gambling can become something more sinister; a habit that affects their life in damaging and negative ways. The person’s gambling may affect the lives of the people around them negatively, too.

So, what are the signs of someone with a gambling problem to look out for? The main signs of a gambling addiction may not be easy to spot, and will differ depending on the person and circumstances. Nevertheless, you know your friend or family member best. You will almost certainly have noticed some changes in their behaviour, whether subtle or extreme. Here are some of the top symptoms of a gambling problem:

  • Spending a lot more time gambling, or preoccupied with thoughts and talk of gambling
  • Taking more risks, trying to win back losses. Losing control over how much they gamble
  • Guilt or remorse following their gambling
  • Missing work, school or other important commitments due to gambling
  • Financial difficulties, missing payments on essentials (such as rent, mortgage, bills)
  • Stealing money or borrowing excessively
  • Strained relationships
  • Worsening mental health problems, stress, depression and sleep issues

Longer term, gambling addiction can lead to severe mental health issues, legal problems, job loss, relationship breakdown and even homelessness. It’s therefore imperative that help is sought as soon as possible.

Example of the real-life story of an Ara client who experienced gambling problems

The following quote is from a recovered gambler who sought help from Ara, after his wife noticed his problematic gambling which he’d kept secret for over two years:

“I went from betting with friends, to going alone to different shops, taking massive amounts of money from the back account each time. To then going to the betting shop multiple times a day, emptying my bank account, using my partner’s bankcard and our daughters saving account.

I would hide from the postman, knowing I had stopped paying my bills. I took out loans, credit cards, overdrafts etc. One of the hardest things to do was all the lying to different people and keeping up with them.”

The secretive nature of addiction may make it hard to spot, but his partner did eventually notice.

“I was expecting my partner to go crazy. I stayed in the kitchen crying my eyes out while she sat on the sofa calmly talking to me. She told me I need help and that I’ve had my last gamble. Strangely I felt relieved; someone wanted to help me…We found Ara online whilst searching for local counselling which specialises in gambling.”

She confronted him about the financial problems and his disappearances to go gambling. As you can tell, this client expressed immense relief at finally having to be honest about his gambling. He went on to overcome his addiction, with the support of his family and an Ara counsellor.

If any of the signs or the story above sound familiar, your friend or family member may have a problem with gambling. It’s important to take steps to help them, but what is the best way to go about it?

How best to help someone with a gambling problem?

Empathy is important to help a friend or family member you suspect has a gambling addiction

Practice empathy

Try to understand what they’re going through. Behind every action is a reason. Problematic gambling generally begins when someone is already experiencing other difficulties, much like any other addiction. Put yourself in their shoes and try to imagine how they feel. It’s important also not to assign blame. Your friend or family member might have caused trouble due to their gambling, but if you want to help them, now’s not the time to start listing failures.

Talking to your friend, partner or family member

Problematic gambling can be a difficult subject to talk about. Some people might try to convince themselves and others that they don’t have a problem. They might be completely unwilling to talk about it, or go to great lengths to avoid the subject.

So how do you go about talking to them the right way? Active listening with a non-judgmental approach is your best option. Let them know that you are asking because you care, and not because you are angry or annoyed. If they feel listened to, they are less likely to get overly defensive and wave you off. Avoiding the word “you” can help prevent sounding accusatory.

The following are some useful active listening techniques:

  • Good eye contact to show that you’re listening, observing and using non-verbal body language
  • Staying present and trying to understand rather than simply respond
  • Not trying to give advice or judge but just listen
  • Being fully present in the conversation
  • Reflecting what has been said and paraphrasing

Here’s some examples of conversation starters you could try for bringing up the subject of a gambling problem.

“I’ve noticed you haven’t seemed happy recently and I’ve been worried about you. You can always talk to me about anything that’s going on”

“I’m not judging you, but I have noticed you are gambling a lot more lately. Is everything ok?”

“As your best mate, I’m always here for you. I’m concerned because you seem to be taking greater risks when gambling. Can we talk about what I can do to help?”

Stay calm

Prepare yourself for negative emotions and reactions from your friend or family member. Shame can cause defensiveness and they may still be unwilling to talk. Don’t push too hard or force them to talk. They may be more willing at a later date after they’ve had a chance to think about what you say. Remember, honesty begets honesty. If you are honest with them about how concerned you are, they are more likely to open up and be honest with you.

Look out for yourself

Dealing with problematic gambling can have a hefty impact on you as well as the gambler. You may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, from betrayal to anger and guilt. It isn’t your responsibility to change their behaviour; only they can do that. You can support them but ultimately the decision is theirs.

Don’t neglect yourself and seek help if you need it. Our free service caters especially for people who have experienced harms from a loved one who gambles. See below on how to get in touch for support.

What to do about financial difficulties due to gambling?

Gambling can cause financial devastation. Your friend or family member may have borrowed money from you or got themselves into financial problems. You should encourage them to seek professional support for this to stop it getting further out of hand. Our Six To Ten Project can also provide signposting to help with money problems. Another step you can suggest is to use blocking software to block online gambling sites. In addition, you can change passwords on your financial services, and keep money and debit or credit cards safely hidden.

Focus on helping your loved one and not feeding their addiction

Of course you’ll want to help and support your loved one if they are going through gambling addiction. However, it’s important that you don’t accidentally reward gambling behavior. You need to have boundaries and controls over your money – try not to lend them money to gamble. Focus on reward positive behaviours and ignoring negative ones. Try to concentrate solutions on how to help rather than just the gambling problem.

Next steps: get a free assessment on gambling behavior from Ara

If you’ve spoken to your friend or family member and they’ve acknowledged they have a gambling problem, you can take steps to resolve it. Self-exclusion is one option, but we have found over the years that the sooner someone accesses professional help, the faster their problematic gambling can be addressed. Many clients express to us that they wish they had contacted us sooner. You can take our free gambling behaviour quiz today, or simply get in touch via our Get Support page to begin your recovery journey immediately.

How to treat problematic gambling behavior?

We provide various levels of support depending on the nature of the gambling problem. All of Ara’s services are completely free and are open to anyone who lives in Wales or South West England.

You can contact us for a simple, informal chat to get advice on how to help your friend or family member. Or, if you require further support we have face to face 1:1 counselling available to anyone who needs it.

Our Six To Ten Project focuses entirely on the loved ones of gamblers, and can help with a wide ranging subject matter, from legal problems to housing and mental health.

Get in touch today on 0330 1340 286 or fill in the form below.