What is the problem?
Defining the problem is the first step and is important. Is there a problem? If there is, how big is it?
Some people seem to be able to gamble without having problems, just as many people can drink without ever becoming alcoholics. If the person is open about their gambling, and is living a normal life otherwise, is happy and fulfilled, then they might not have a gambling problem. Gambling disorder is a medical condition and can be diagnosed (and therefore can be screened for). We use the Problem Gambling Severity Index, the most widely used tool worldwide, so you can point your loved one towards this assessment here.
Gambling is often called the hidden addiction. You may not have evidence of an addiction but you may have a gut instinct. People with gambling problems often lie - because they are ashamed of their problem. This makes it hard to identify, but these are some of the signs you might be noticing:
- Money is missing from the house or from bank accounts for no good reason.
- Your family member hides bank and credit card statements
- The person is borrowing money from friends, banks, etc
- Bills go unpaid
- Creditors are ringing up demanding money
- Valuables disappear for no good reason
- The person takes on overtime or more work, but there is no more money
- Your family member seems “far away”
- They are unusually anxious and angry
- They might have unexplained mood swings and be very happy and generous one day (when they are winning) and down the next.
- Is unusually depressed, or even suicidal
- Become uncharacteristically late for work
- Stops doing things they used to enjoy
- Is gone for unexplained periods of time
- Is awake late into the night
- Ignores family chores, such as taking the rubbish out, cleaning etc
- Doesn’t take proper care of the children
- Misses family events or is not there in spirit
- Talks about gambling a lot; or uses a lot of gambling language such as “What’s the odds on that”, “I bet…”, “dead cert”, etc
Of course, your friend or family member may have told you about their problem. If so, this is a good sign - a sign that they have taken some responsibility and are probably prepared to change.
How are YOU feeling?
Right now you might be in one of two modes – which we can call “rescuing mode” and “rubbishing mode”.
Rescuing mode would be where you can see the problem and you want to rescue your loved one from it.
Rubbishing mode would be where you resent the fact that your loved one is continuing to gamble, or can’t seem to break free from it. You see all the bad things about them and you might find it hard disassociating them from their problems.
We’d like to point out some things here. Firstly the gambler may not perceive that they have a problem. Even if they realise they have a problem then they may believe they can self-regulate their habit. This often happens with gambling addiction - that people swing in between "problem" gambling and "at risk" levels of gambling. You can help them along their journey but you cannot rescue them.
Secondly, gambling addiction is irrational – literally. Decisions are made impulsively through the prefrontal cortex – a different part of the brain to the rational brain. This is why the gambler may be acting out of character.
We recommend you check your own feeling and mood – and take neither one of these modes. Of course, choosing not to rescue the gambler does not mean you won’t help them; and choosing not to rubbish them does not mean that you agree with what they do, or even that you will not allow natural consequences to happen.
How are they feeling?
This might seem like a strange question to you. It is important that you understand what the gambler is going through – not in some wishy-washy sense - but so that you can understand why they might be behaving as they do.
Now here is an excellent video by my friend Justyn, which will give you more insight into the situation from the gambler’s perspective:
What have you learnt from this video?
Perhaps some of the things people often take away are:
- Gambling addiction is progressive and there is no "safe" level for a problem gambler
- Gamblers do not intend to hurt their loved ones but sometimes do
- Often their gambling is driven by good intentions, such as providing for their family
- Gamblers sometimes become so desperate it often turns them to uncharacteristic behaviour, like committing crime or selling valued possessions
- Consequences can be helpful, when delivered in love
What can you do?
- If you suspect your friend or family member has a gambling problem but are not sure, then ask them - in a kind way and calm manner. Your approach should be to establish facts, rather than accuse - as this would be likely to make them defensive.
- You could ask your loved one if they want to assess their gambling on our site, for some objective confirmation.
- If they say they don't have a problem, and don't want to assess whether their gambling is a problem, then nagging or forcing them is unlikely to help - it is only likely to drive their gambling more underground.
- You can show empathy to them (whilst not taking responsibility for their problem) - asking them how they are feeling, and showing that you care.
- You can start to distract them with good things like days out. If there is a pattern then this may help your loved one to break it