How to support a loved one you suspect (or know) has gambling problems

The impacts of unhealthy gambling habits affect not just the individual, but also their friends, family and partner. And while initiatives like Safer Gambling Week (previously known as Responsible Gambling Week) have empowered more people to open up about their problems, societal stigmas still exist. Because of these stigmas, many individuals feel like they need to suffer in silence instead. 

As someone close to a problem gambler, you may feel a whole range of emotions – one of those being helpless. However, you have the power to help the person you care about overcome their struggles. 

Here are some ways you can help to support a loved one you either suspect or know has problems with gambling. 

Identify the problem

If you suspect that someone you know is having issues with gambling, there are a few telltale signs that can help you to identify the problem. 

  • Their life has become increasingly focused on gambling;
  • They use gambling as a means to manage their emotions;
  • They have encountered financial problems, which in turn may lead to stealing to fund their habits;
  • They exhibit illusions and biases about their chances of success, such as waiting for their luck to turn, or feeling they are “due a win”;
  • They may be impulsive and may struggle to acknowledge the consequences of their actions;
  • They may withdraw from social situations, or have difficulties with intimacy;
  • They are focused on chasing their losses;
  • They may become financially reckless, such as by spending family savings or missing bill payments in order to fund their gambling.

Let them open up in their own time 

Opening up about personal struggles is easier said than done, and some of us need more time than others before we decide to tell someone. As you may have experienced yourself, being pushy and demanding an answer only makes the situation worse. 

If you suspect that someone is suffering from gambling-related harms, let them know you’ve noticed that they’re feeling different recently. Ask them if everything is okay; if they say they’re fine, tell them that you’re there for them if they need someone to talk to in the future. 

Be gentle, take a step back and make it clear that they can trust you. When they’re ready to talk, they will. 

Put together a spending plan for essential bills 

Gambling problems and financial hardship are often linked to one another. According to GamCare, over 70% of annual callers to the National Gambling Helpline cite some form of debt or other financial issues in their reasons for calling. 

Unfortunately, essential bills will not go away regardless of how much or little money we have. And ignoring them makes matters worse. Therefore, you must come up with a plan to pay the rent, utilities and so on. 

Instead of thinking “we can’t afford to”, think “how can we afford to?”. Go through your monthly expenses, and you will almost always be able to cut back on things you don’t need. Or perhaps you can declutter your wardrobes, or one of you can take up extra work for a little while. Regardless of how bleak the situation looks in the moment, there is always a way out. 

Give them useful contact details 

In the UK, there is a lot of help available for problem gamblers. 

Some useful numbers and links are below: 

  • The National Gambling Helpline: 0808 8020 133
  • The NHS provides help for problem gamblers. Problem gambling is recognised medical condition akin to other addictions, and an appointment with a GP can be a major step on the road to recovery.
  • You can also ask the person’s bank to see if they can help. At the very least, they should be able in most cases to block gambling transactions on their account. 

Other measures you can take

Self-exclusion service GAMSTOP is a powerful tool to help curb gambling habits, with the service blocking a specified user from all UKGC-licensed gambling sites for a self-determined period of time. The UKGC has recently introduced regulations that ensure all licensees are enrolled in GAMSTOP’s services.

Licensed gambling sites are also compelled by UKGC standards to provide self-imposed limitations on-site, including time limits, spending caps, maximum deposits, and more. Navigate to your account settings on the online casino or gambling site in question, and the options will be available there. If you need any help putting these restrictions in place, the site’s customer support team will be able to assist you either through a live chat, phone, or email.

Conclusion 

Gambling issues can affect more than just the individual, and as a friend, family or partner, we might feel like there is nothing we can do to help this person. However, as is the case with alcoholism and drug addiction, there is always a way out. 

Opening up about our struggles takes time, and you should give the person you suspect has gambling problems some space. If they do not trust you, they won’t tell you about their issues. 

Regardless of any financial hardships, bills still need to be paid. Alongside offering emotional support, you can provide practical help by creating a spending plan. When your wage arrives in your bank account, you should also consider putting your essential expenses into a separate pot and automating those payments. 

While you can help, they will also benefit from extra professional support. The National Gambling Helpline is a useful resource, and the NHS and many UK banks also have services for those struggling with their gambling habits.