Help a friend or loved one overcome a gambling problem

Problem gambling doesn't just affect the gambler. It can have serious consequences for the people around them too. Families suffer from debt and property loss caused by gambling. Loved ones are manipulated and lied to. Children are neglected and verbal and physical abuse is common.

The good news is that you are not powerless. In fact, friends and family of problem gamblers are often the driving force behind getting the gambler to admit a problem and get help. Here you can find helpful tips for friends and family of problem gamblers.

Signs that someone you know may have a gambling problem

Problem gambling isn't always easy to recognize. Problem gamblers often live in denial, and are skilled at hiding their activity. But if you look closely you may begin to see the red flags — changes in personality, increased credit card bills, money or valuables that mysteriously disappear.

If you are concerned that someone you know has a gambling problem,
the following are some common warning signs to look for:

  • Constantly talking about gambling

  • Becoming secretive about money and finances

  • Becoming increasingly defensive about gambling activity

  • Gambling instead of spending time with family

  • Becoming increasingly desperate for money to fund gambling

  • Neglecting family or household responsibilities because of gambling

  • Always planning holidays where gambling is available

  • Getting irritated more easily or having less patience when dealing with normal, everyday activities

Get help for a friend or family member

Call the Pennsylvania Problem
Gambling Helpline

1.877.565.2112

More information for friends and family

How to help a friend or family member with a gambling problem

It can be painful and frustrating to see someone you love suffer from a gambling problem. Even worse, you may be suffering the negative impacts of problem gambling even though you don't have the problem. Remember that it's not your fault. You did not create the problem. And unfortunately you cannot make a gambler stop gambling. But you may be able to help your friend or loved one to help themselves.

These are tips for what to do — and what not to do — to help someone overcome a gambling problem.

DO

DO NOT

Learn as much as you can about problem gambling including its warning signs, negative impacts and options for help and recovery.

Accept blame for the situation that the problem gambler has caused. Problem gamblers will often place blame and create arguments to justify their gambling.

When confronting someone about problem gambling, stay calm and be supportive. Tell them how their gambling affects you. Recognize their good qualities and any positive steps they have made.

Lecture, accuse or get into a heated argument with the problem gambler. This tends to make people more defensive and less open to admitting a problem and getting help.

Learn to say "NO" to the problem gambler. This will force the gambler to face the problem head-on. Try to unify friends and family in saying no as well.

Lend money or pay for gambling debts. Bailing out a problem gambler will make matters worse by allowing the gambling behavior to continue.

Get support from other friends and family, and problem gambling counselors, and self-help groups, who can help you understand the problem and deal with its effects. The more support the better.

Try to hide the problem by making excuses or covering up their behavior. This will only allow the problem to continue.

Protect yourself and your family, financially, emotionally and physically. If necessary, seek the help of a family counselor.

Allow yourself to be manipulated by the problem gambler or to be put into an abusive situation.

Remember that change takes time, effort and often several attempts to be successful. Be sure to identify triggers and help them learn how to deal with urges to gamble.

Expect an immediate recovery. Overcoming a gambling problem takes a lot of hard work and relapses are common.

Starting the
conversation

Sometimes the hardest part is taking that first step.

First, you want to choose the right moment to talk.
If the person recently finished a gambling episode and is expressing regret, that might be a good opportunity to begin discussing the issue. Try to talk to them in a caring and understanding way.

If the person tries to rationalize their behavior, be prepared to offer solid evidence of their problem (credit card bills, lost job, etc.) If they continue to rationalize or deny that they have a problem, end the discussion and try again another time.

And always remember to keep focused on the person's behavior, rather than on the person themselves. This tends to help people feel less defensive and more open to hearing another point of view.

Protecting yourself and your family

To help a problem gambler, you must also help yourself. This means protecting yourself and your family as much as possible from the negative consequences problem gamblers will often bring on themselves. The more you are able to do this, the more effectively you will be able to bring about positive change.

  • Keep track of all money that is spent and owed.

  • Consider safeguarding bank accounts and other assets so that the gambler cannot access them. If possible, only give them access to money for daily necessities until the situation improves.

  • Do not rescue the gambler by paying off debts. This will only enable the person to continue their behavior.

  • Seek professional help for financial advice, counseling and support.

Find more information about problem gambling