How to Help Someone with a Gambling Problem

March 12, 2015
Clock Icon 5 min read

Gambling is a hobby that many people enjoy, whether it’s to win big on the money stakes, provide a much-needed rush of adrenaline or simply to socialise with friends. However, as glamorous as the gambling world may seem, an increasing number of players are finding themselves addicted to the game. The natural high that winning creates can be hard to shake and even harder to recreate elsewhere.

According to the NHS, there may be as many as 450,000 people with a gambling problem in the UK – a rather astonishing statistic.

10 Key Signs of a Gambling Problem

Excessive gambling causes many problems: problems for your physical health, your emotional health, your lifestyle, your family and your friends. The following list features 10 symptoms that are typical of someone with a gambling addiction:

  1. Money problems – the person may make demands for cash, find themselves unable to pay bills or take out additional loans in order to fund their habit of spending more money than they can afford. The person may sell their possessions to gain extra money or may spend large sums of money without being able to tell you where it’s gone.
  2. Mood swings – the person may behave more erratically than usual, becoming more aggressive, angry or passionate than they have been before. They may suffer from rapid emotional highs and lows, lie to their friends and family or become quite irritable.
  3. Social withdrawal – the person may not be very chatty or sociable and prefer to spend their time away from their family, friends and other hobbies. They may dedicate the majority of their time to gambling and neglect all other areas of their life. They may disappear for large amounts of time without explanation.
  4. Increased generosity – as a result of winning large amounts of money, the person may become more generous than normal, offering to pay for your meals, buying you expensive gifts or spending money much more frivolously than they are known for.
  5. Weight loss – sudden weight loss may occur if the person is spending a lot of time away from home or is feeling particularly stressed about the amount of money that they are losing. They may also suffer from headaches, back pain or digestive problems as a result of the stress that gambling brings.
  6. Lack of motivation and concentration – pouring so much energy into one hobby is hard work, so people with a gambling problem may come across as tired, lethargic and unable to concentrate. If they are losing money, they are likely to feel unmotivated to get on with their everyday lives.
  7. Depression and anxiety – mental health can be affected greatly by gambling: the extreme highs and lows can cause problems with depression and anxiety as the person struggles to deal with these extreme changes in emotion.
  8. Insomnia – the person may find themselves unable to sleep regularly or continuously. The adrenaline rush associated with gambling can make the player feel more alert than usual and, alongside other physical or mental symptoms, this will impact on their sleeping habits.
  9. Criminal activity – the person may turn to drink or drugs to help cope with their gambling addiction, may begin to steal money to fund their habit or may even turn towards money laundering as a result of their compulsion to gamble more.
  10. Verbal and physical abuse – gambling can cause huge strains in relationships if the person is dependent on their hobby, socially withdrawn or in large amounts of debt. As a result, verbal and physical abuse may occur quite regularly if the person’s interests conflict with your own.

How to Help a Person with a Gambling Problem

Slot machines in a casino

Many gamblers may not be aware that they have a problem and some may be in denial about how excessive their hobby has become. As a result, facing up to their gambling being a problem can be a huge step. If you know someone with a gambling problem and want to help them move forward, use the following 10 tips as a guide for getting started:

  1. Talk it through – ask the person to one side and talk to them quietly and calmly about their problem. Don’t be confrontational or forceful but ask questions about their feelings and motives to get the person to admit responsibility for their addiction. Admitting to the problem is often the hardest part.
  2. Be supportive – show the person that you are behind them 100% and are willing to support them with letting go of their gambling problem. Be discreet, stay calm and do your best to learn about what they are experiencing so that you can be there whenever they need you. Take each day as it comes so they know that you’re not trying to rush them.
  3. Avoid confrontation – don’t accuse the person of having a problem; instead, let them take responsibility and admit to it. If you try to talk to the person and they become confrontational, don’t lose control of your reactions and instead take a deep breath and avoid arguing back. Choose your words carefully to evade misunderstandings.
  4. Don’t be quick to judge – try not to be quick to judge, condemn or draw any conclusions from the behaviour the person is exhibiting. Instead, be supportive and ask questions to show you are willing to understand and help.
  5. Explain how you feel – explaining to the person how their gambling affects you and how it makes you feel can often be a wake-up call which may trigger them to change to their ways, particularly if it means it will save your relationship.
  6. Be patient – remember to take one day at a time and don’t hurry the person to ‘get over’ their gambling addiction. You may feel as if you need to make appointments for them or go with them to therapy sessions, but let the person do things in their own time when they’re ready to make a change. Pushing the person may cause them to become more stressed and turn back to gambling as a coping strategy.
  7. Cognitive behavioural therapy – CBT often has the best results for those with a gambling problem. It consists of a weekly therapy session that can help the person to change the way they feel or behave around gambling. CBT trains your mind to come up with more helpful ways of thinking and can be a very effective self-help tool.
  8. Support groups – point the person towards a gambling support group, such as the GamCare Helpline, or ask them to consider contacting a GP, counsellor or charity who can provide them with advice and support. Sometimes talking to a stranger about a problem is easier than talking to a friend or family member.
  9. Keep control of money – if the person agrees, try managing their money for a short period of time until they feel in control of their spending. Alternatively, come up with an agreed weekly limit for gambling to keep their habit in check. Avoid bailing the person out with loans or covering losses as the person needs to learn to take responsibility for themselves.

Do You Work for a Company Where Gambling is Present?

If you work in a business where customers are able to gamble, whether it’s a betting shop, casino, bingo hall or lottery stand, then you have a responsibility to ensure that gambling is carried out securely, and all staff should be trained and prepared to help a customer who has a gambling problem.

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