How to Help a Family Member with a Gambling Problem

Many people treat gambling as a recreational activity and a fun way to pass the time. However, there are two sides to every coin, and some gamblers are at risk of turning the fun into a disorder.

A gambling problem can occur at any stage of someone’s life: Those affected by it cannot control their urge to gamble, even though they’re aware that such actions can endanger their livelihood or that of their loved ones.

Thankfully, people with a gambling problem don’t have to suffer alone. There are several ways that you can help your loved ones or even a close friend if you suspect they have a gambling disorder. However, before you enroll them in an addicts’ program, you should first make sure that the person you are trying to help is actually facing this issue to avoid putting a strain on your relationship.

Identifying the Warning Signs of Gambling Addiction

There are several myths regarding compulsive gamblers, and one of them implies that anyone who gambles frequently is a compulsive gambler. While those exposed to gambling more often do have higher chances of developing a compulsive need to gamble, the sheer frequency of gambling does not necessarily help in identifying someone with a gambling disorder.

Simply put, there is a difference between an active gambler and a compulsive gambler.

While it may sound tricky, recognising someone with a gambling disorder is relatively easy if you know what signs to look out for:

  • Spending more money gambling than they can afford

  • Asking for loans or, in the worst-case scenario, stealing to cover gambling debts

  • Allowing gambling to get in the way of their work

  • Having difficulties in personal relationships due to gambling

  • Hiding their gambling habits from friends, family, or medical professionals

If a person close to you exhibits one or more of these signs, they may require professional help, and the best way to provide the right kind of aid is to understand them and the potential causes of their gambling addiction.

Understanding Addicted Gamblers

There are two types of compulsive gamblers: They can either be action gamblers or escape gamblers.

Action gamblers tend to be extroverted and self-confident. They often focus on games of skill, such as poker or blackjack, and enjoy beating the odds. On the other hand, escape gamblers often use gambling to escape from their problems, as the name suggests. They can appear introverted, unhappy, or even depressed.

As we’ve mentioned before, someone with a gambling disorder might appear defensive when asked about it. Such a person can even lie about their gambling addiction, either because they are trying to avoid the topic, or they’re simply denying that a problem exists in the first place. However, by understanding what they are going through, you will be able to initiate the conversation and communicate with them more easily.

You should be mindful when expressing your concerns about their wellbeing, as there are several things to avoid. For starters, be wary of your tone and don’t lose your cool. Ensure that you are offering a helping hand and not preaching, lecturing, or criticising them about an already difficult situation.

Secondly, do not exclude them from family activities or allow them to feel left out. By doing so, you risk them trying to escape from even more problems, driving them ever further towards gambling. Instead, make them feel cared for and let them know that you and other family members are there for them.

Lastly, do not expect an immediate recovery and be prepared for relapses. Many compulsive gamblers suffer from gambling withdrawal - recovering from gambling addiction is a process that will take time and continuous effort.

However, keep in mind that you shouldn’t always bail them out of their money problems, either. This can be counterproductive, as it might give them the false impression that someone will always be there to pay off their debts, which will only add fuel to their habit. Sometimes, letting a person hit rock bottom might help them understand that they have a problem and recognise they need help. 

The most important thing to remember is that you should always be open and honest about your intentions. By expressing genuine concern for someone, you are ensuring that they feel safe enough to admit that they have a gambling problem and might even be open to suggestions and ideas on how to get help.

Helping Someone with Gambling Addiction

Gambling can quite often be a consequence of other underlying problems, such as mental health issues like depression, or even financial or marital problems. The best way to combat addiction is by tackling your problems one by one and working on getting your life back on track.

An excellent way to start would be by helping your loved ones seek support from others who have similar problems and ensure that they attend self-help groups. Also, they should seek counseling and medical help.

By slowly working on their problems and regaining control over their life, your loved ones’ mood will improve, which will help immensely when battling gambling addiction.

Lastly, suppose the situation is severe, and the person in your circle with a gambling addiction requires round-the-clock support. In that case, you should consider talking to them and signing them up for rehab if there is a facility specialising in helping those with gambling problems in your vicinity.


Gambling addiction is a serious issue, and can lead to many financial and mental health problems. It can cause anxiety, depression, and in the worst-case scenario, even suicide. If you suspect that a member of your family is a compulsive gambler, you should approach them and express your concerns about their wellbeing.

Keep in mind that gambling affects everyone differently, and the situation varies from one person to another. For that reason, focus on understanding them and helping them realize that their gambling is negatively affecting them, you, and other members of your circle, but that it doesn’t have to be their whole life.

Ideally, this will help them understand the severity of their actions, and you can come to an agreement about seeking professional help.

This article was kindly written and contributed by Milica Kostic

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