Gambling when it is compulsive (that is, when it is out of control and your friend is unable to stop regardless of the consequences) is known as a gambling addiction, but gambling that isn’t occurring all the time can also be a problem as it can still be disrupting your friend’s life and requires some intervention. Problems from gambling are not just to do with money. Gambling can also interfere with relationships with partners, friends and family. People who gamble will most often have underlying issues which the gambling is masking in some way. So gambling becomes a way for the person to deal with these issues. Therefore, simply stopping the gambling behaviour is not going to make someone feel better because these underlying issues will come into focus and more appropriate ways of dealing with them need to be found.
Symptoms of gambling are varied and there is often overlap with many other problems and other addictions. So to detect a potential gambling problem a number of the symptoms might need to be present and then some careful gentle questioning might help you to work out if gambling is a problem or some other issue
- secretive behaviour about where they have been, how much they gamble, about their finances
- misses important events, late for work, study commitments
- changed sleeping, eating or sex patterns
- not looking after themselves any more or their personal affairs
- they may ask you for money for various things (e.g. rent etc)
- once they start a gambling session it is very difficult for them to stop
- gambling until they have no more money at all (no money for food, bills etc)
- stealing money or property to sell in order to obtain more money
Some questions to determine if gambling is a problem
What gambling do you do?
When did you start gambling?
How did you learn how to gamble?
What makes you gamble?
How often do you gamble?
How to Help a Gambler
Initial help to recognise the problem
- Help your friend to recognise that gambling is a problem for them and those around them. This is very important.
- Remind them that recovery is possible if they seek support and treatment. Inidicate that you believe they can overcome difficulties without gambling. Help and support can help them to find better ways of dealing with problem emotions.
- Show compassion if they open up to you about their gambling. Acknowledge that it is difficult and that they are making steps to change the situation.
- Gently emphasise to your friend that they can’t change the problem, particularly if it is a gambling addiction, without support from professionals and friends and family.
A plan for dealing with the problem
- Help them to find an agency or counsellors that are trained in dealing with gambling addictions and problems (do a search on the web for ‘gambling help’ in your area).
- Help them to discuss the gambling with family members and others in order to enlist their help.
- Do not offer to pay out debts!
- Offer to be a person they call when they feel like gambling. You can then discuss the consequences of them gambling and other things they can do instead of gambling. Activities might be going to a movie together or doing some sport for example.
- Assist them to block gambling sites on their electronic devices if that is an area where they might gamble – a gambling help service might be able to advise about this course of action.
- Don’t get angry or frustrated with them if they slip from time to time – this is normal and you can encourage them to learn from these mistakes.
- Watch to see if your friend seems to be feeling hopeless – there is a high suicide risk for many gamblers. Check out the Suicide and Self-harm section if you are concerned.
Looking after yourself or a friend affected by someone else’s gambling
- Don’t accept any blame that your friend may put on you for their gambling behaviour
- If you are financially tied with them in some way then put things in place to protect yourself. Financial counsellors, often linked with gambling services, may be able to advise.
- If it is impacting you then consider counselling for yourself, look for support groups for friends and family of those with a gambling problem. Often the person with a gambling problem will find it easier to acknowledge the problem if their friends/family have sought help over how the gambling is affecting them.
- Think of ways of responding to requests for money.
Dealing with the underlying issues
- Meditation and relaxation exercises
- new hobbies
- Being with friends