How can I help them?
- Be a “supporter” – listen to them, don’t judge, offer unconditional love
- With their agreement, restrict their ability to gamble through cutting down on the money available to them (cards and cash).
- Make time to have fun with them – distraction is important
- Make excuses for their gambling (or tolerate excuses)
- Bail out their financial situation, or minimise any of the consequences. Consequences are a learning opportunity.
Do not bail them out
First, we believe in self help. The gambler got themselves into this mess; it is their responsibility to get themselves out of it. People often think they can help the person by cajoling them and by leading them step-by-step through stuff. You can’t work harder on a problem than the responsible person does. Ask yourself: whose problem is it? You may love them; their problem may have impacted your life; but at the end of the day it is their problem and they need to address it.
Sometimes people try to protect their loved ones from the consequences of their own actions. For example, a parent may pay off a gambling debt so their teenage son does not have to. This is not loving. If you pay off the person’s debts, you may send the message that someone will bail the person out if he or she gets into trouble. This sometimes leads the person to start gambling again. Your support is vital to the person but there are consequences to gambling addiction (particularly financial ones) and the person has to face them.
Be patient and point them towards help
Change takes time. Don’t expect the person to admit to the problem, or to accept that he or she needs help, right away. Keep planting the seeds of change. Don’t second-guess their feelings. Ask: “How do you feel?”.
Tell the person that taking action will lead to less family conflict and stress. Provide helpful information. Ask them to assess their problem on our website and get appropriate help.
If they don't want to be helped, you can't force them - and in fact trying to do so may back them more into a corner. Ultimately they are responsible for themselves, and you are responsible for yourself.
Tell them how their actions have affected you
Don’t yell. Do it calmly. Do it in a way that is best for you. Some people may like to sit down and talk; others may wish to put it in writing as well.
Be specific, say how you feel, make a specific point before generalising, e.g. say “Last Tuesday you didn’t come home until 8pm when you said you would be home at 5.30pm. This makes me feel worried. Being late like that is a pretty common occurrence.”
Don’t say “You always” or “You never”, and don’t blame, lecture or moralise – you may be in the right, but the important thing is to be loving. An insistence on being right may make you feel better but probably won’t help the situation very much. Remember it is about a person with a problem. The problem is not the person.
Tell them the consequences if they continue gambling
Simply tell the person what you are going to do. Think to yourself: “This is what I’m going to do; I don’t control you, you control you. On a good day I control myself”. Avoid threats—but let the person know what you will do if he or she keeps gambling. And be prepared to follow through. The person may have heard you make threats before, and may not believe you will act.
Tell the person about your feelings. Be direct and use “I” statements to share facts and feelings. For example: “I’m angry when we don’t have money to pay our bills because of your gambling.” “I’m frightened by your gambling debts.”
Address the financial situation
You need to assess your financial situation: How much money has been lost? What debts have been run up? Are they shared debts or do they belong only to the person who gambles?
This step can be emotionally difficult. Often those with gambling problems may find it difficult to disclose the extent of the losses and debts; they may not even know themselves! They may fear that you will reject them if you know the truth. However without the truth no recovery is possible.
If there is a lot of debt involved, or if you are being bothered by creditors, see a specialist:
Stepchange – is a national UK debt charity which helps 500,000 people a year deal with their debt problems and get their lives back on track. They have an online and telephone assessment tool, and then will recommend practical action based on your situation.
www.stepchange.org or 0800 138 1111 (Freephone)
CAP UK – is a debt counselling charity which provides free advice and practical help across the UK. Additionally they run local money courses and job clubs. CAP works in partnership with local churches and has over 200 centres around the UK.
These are only two of the organisations in the UK which provide debt advice, so do search and find the best option for you. But be careful of companies which may charge you for similar advice.