How to Help a Gambling Addict
Advice for Partners, Friends & Family

Gambling addiction is a very serious condition which very often leads to regrettable consequences for the addicted person as well as their friends and loved ones. As with other compulsive behaviours, gambling addiction occurs when the brain’s reward system becomes physically dependent on repeating the problematic behaviour. Although the situation may seem helpless at times, gambling addiction can be overcome by taking the right steps. The guide below presents practical advice on how to help a gambling addict regain control of their behaviour, and their future.

In this article, you’ll learn more about:

What are gambling addiction and problem gambling?

Gambling addiction is a recognised compulsive behavioural disorder. It is also commonly referred to as pathological gambling, compulsive gambling, or gambling disorder. People suffering from this disorder are unable to resist or control the impulse to gamble, regardless of the negative outcomes they may be creating for themselves or their loved ones.

Problem gambling fits the above description as well, but this term could also refer to a slightly milder attraction to gambling that may not fit the complete clinical diagnosis of a full-blown addiction. Problem gambling is more of an umbrella term that describes overly risky and personally disruptive gambling behaviour.
Very often, gambling disorders are an indication of deeper mental health issues that must also be addressed for the person to achieve a lasting recovery. When considering the problem of how to stop a gambler, it is important to understand that gambling addicts are immune to most standard efforts at persuasion and argumentation. To give them help for gambling, you must first make them understand that they have a serious problem.

Signs and symptoms of a gambling addiction

The following is a list of behaviours that are commonly associated with gambling addiction. If several of these descriptions apply to your loved one, it may be worth seeking professional help.
  • Great interest in gambling or conversations about gambling
  • Dramatic mood swings associated with gambling or gaming outcomes
  • Easily distracted during non-gambling-related activities
  • Reckless gambling
  • Lack of interest or involvement with family and friends
  • Frequently asking for loans
  • Poor focus on school, work, or other responsibilities
  • Unexplained changes or irregularities in financial status
  • Secrecy or defensiveness surrounding a gambling habit
Other suggestive indicators include money that goes missing from shared accounts, as well as the disappearance and reappearance of jewellery or other items which can be pawned.

Can a gambler change?

It bears repeating that addiction is defined as the inability to resist certain behaviours, even when they are harmful or self-destructive. Anger may be understandable in response to harmful acts, but empathy paired with practical steps forward will be more productive. Problem gamblers and gambling addicts can change their ways – but they need help getting started.

How to deal with a gambler

If someone close to you has a gambling problem, there are several things you can do to help them recover.

Start by helping yourself. Secure your valuables and prevent the addicted person from gaining access to them. Advise the gambler’s other family members, friends, and acquaintances to do the same.


Take ownership of financial responsibilities. The gambler is no longer equipped to responsibly handle money. Get their permission to manage their rent, bills, and other expenses, so that utilities and accommodation can continue without interruption.


Decide in advance how you will handle requests for money. Addicts may resort to nearly anything, including emotional manipulation, to continue their habit. Plan for these moments so that you can respond with the proper resolve.


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Talk to them directly about their gambling. Explain your concerns clearly, remind them that they care for their friends and family, and show how their gambling is negatively affecting the people and relationships around them. Most importantly, help them understand that they have a real problem – only then will they make an effort to solve it.


Ask them to consider attending rehab. Structured therapy sessions can provide recovering gamblers with the confidence and the mental toolkit they need to resist urges as they arise. Gambling rehab can provide essential behavioural monitoring in a controlled location, helping compulsive gamblers find their way back to healthy living, one step at a time.


Budget for gambling treatment. You also may need to set aside funds for the cost of treatment, as most health insurance policies and employer-sponsored health plans do not cover attendance at rehab for the purpose of recovering from a gambling problem. Some policies may cover treatment for a related disorder, however, such as depression or substance abuse.


Provide support and encouragement towards breaking their habit. Addiction is often too overwhelming to face alone, and feelings of rejection or blame can even exacerbate the issues that led to the addiction in the first place. Offering help and providing solidarity are important elements of how to help a gambling addict.


Professional help for gambling addiction

Financial problems are the symptoms, not the cause
An under-appreciated fact about addictions is that they are the expression of a serious mental health disorder. Money troubles may or may not precede problem gambling or full-blown addiction, but they are not the ultimate cause. Psychological issues need psychological treatment, and the methods below are an excellent way to make progress towards recovery.

Psychological counselling

The best and most reliable way to overcome problem gambling or a gambling addiction is through evidence-based treatment. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychological counselling, conducted either in a face-to-face or group setting, where the recovering gambler talks through their condition with a qualified therapist.
During these discussions, the therapist and the client revisit the critical moments when the urges seem most powerful. The therapist then suggests practical ways for the client to resist these temptations as they arise, using special techniques to steer the mind away from negative thoughts and toward positive ones. Each session teaches and reinforces these valuable techniques, until the recovering gambler is able to use them independently and effectively.
Psychologist talking with patient during the therapy. Psychotherapist counseling client.

Residential and outpatient treatment

The above approach is one of many that are commonly used in rehab programmes, whether inpatient or outpatient. Residential treatment has the additional advantage of keeping clients under supervision even when they are not in a therapy session. This 24-hour monitoring, plus the physical distance between the rehab centre and any sources of everyday temptation, makes inpatient care ideal in many recovery situations.
Outpatient care may be appropriate in cases where the addiction is mild, everyday temptations are not present, an effective personal support network is available, and the client has other obligations on their time (such as work or family responsibilities). A range of rehabilitation services can include individual therapy sessions, group therapy sessions, medical support, and psychiatry.

Co-occurring disorders among gambling addict

As mentioned above, it is relatively rare for addictions to develop in the absence of other mental health issues. Substance use disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent co-occurring disorders among people with pathological gamblers. A variety of other mental health conditions may have also laid the groundwork for the person to embrace a destructive gambling habit. Trained therapists should be able to recognise such underlying conditions, and provide tailored dual diagnosis treatment to help their clients overcome these issues, as part of the comprehensive recovery process.

Free sources of help for gambling addicts and loved ones

Gamblers Anonymous

When deciding how to help a gambling addict, 12-step programmes such as Gamblers Anonymous are also worth consideration. This type of gathering can either supplement CBT and rehab, or be attended separately. These 12-step programmes have brought success to many attendees over the decades, as their promotion of conversation and solidarity among one’s peers has proved to be a powerful combination.

GamAnon

Organisations like GamAnon are set up for the express purpose of helping friends and family members cope with loved ones who suffer from gambling issues. GamCare, though it offers direct help to gamblers, is also equipped to help people who have been indirectly affected by gambling. If you are struggling with the stresses of the situation, one of the most important things to can do is to talk to others who understand what you are going through.

GamTalk

The online GamTalk community allows for live conversations to help gambling addicts. It also includes published stories, a community wall to share messages, and other resources and advice. The site also has links to international services set up to help gamblers confront and overcome their addictions.
The words 12 Step Program typed on an old typewriter.

The majority of gambling addicts do not seek treatment

71% of people with a gambling addiction have never sought treatment
Gambling is an addiction that can be hard for family members and friends to detect, due to the fact that most gambling addicts show no outward signs of suffering from an addiction. Often their addiction will only become evident when it’s too late – with savings accounts emptied, properties repossessed, or in the worst-case scenario, an attempt at suicide.
When faced with huge financial losses as the result of their actions, gambling addicts can feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. For this reason, there is a high rate of suicide among pathological gamblers.

Rehab for gambling addiction

Professional therapists have the education, training, and experience to help people suffering from gambling disorders. Qualified rehab centres use a programme of evidence-based treatment to empower their clients, so they can take back control and live a life free from gambling.
Thailand is home to some of the best and most effective rehab centres anywhere in the world, within the same price range. Clients who attend a well-run inpatient facility will benefit greatly from group and one-on-one sessions with therapists who know how to deal with a gambler and put them on the path towards self-determination once again.

To find out more about gambling rehab, and which rehab centre in Thailand may be best for you or your loved one, send us a message. We’re happy to answer your questions, and our consultations are entirely free of charge.

Author
Cameron Brown
Psychologist
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    3. Rodriguez-Monguio, Rosa et al. “Comorbid pathological gambling, mental health, and substance use disorders: Health-care services provision by clinician specialty.” Journal of behavioral addictions vol. 6,3 (2017): 406-415. doi:10.1556/2006.6.2017.054 
    4. Dąbrowska, Katarzyna et al. “Barriers in Access to the Treatment for People with Gambling Disorders. Are They Different from Those Experienced by People with Alcohol and/or Drug Dependence?.” Journal of gambling studies vol. 33,2 (2017): 487-503. doi:10.1007/s10899-016-9655-1
    5. National Endowment for Financial Education. “Problem Gamblers and their Finances: A Guide for Treatment Professionals.” 2014. PDF file.

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