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How to know when gambling is problematic

Gambling is problematic when someone can’t stop gambling despite its negative consequences.

Problem gambling is a disease. Although problem gamblers don’t ingest any substances, their brains function nearly identically to those of alcoholics and drug addicts.

There are no visible symptoms of problem gambling. If you suspect someone has a problem, don’t wait until that person experiences major difficulties.

How to build a support group for a problem gambler

Learn as much as you can about problem gambling before discussing it.

When having a conversation, stay calm and be supportive. Explain how their gambling affects you. Remind them of their good qualities and any positive steps they have taken.

Unite friends and family members to refuse all requests for money, secrecy and deception.

The best communication methods to use

How do you prefer to discuss difficult subjects? Many people prefer in-person, followed by phone and then email or texting.

Surprisingly, problem gamblers say any form of communication is fine, provided the person is positive, understanding and supportive.

Focus on your hopes and expectations that they seek treatment. Ask them if they think they’re ready. Eventually, they will say yes.

The best time to address the problem

Before you start, remind yourself why you suspect a problem (financial troubles, lying, secrecy).

The best time to talk might be when a person has just finished a gambling episode and is expressing regret. Tell them how their life can improve with treatment.

If the person tries to rationalize their gambling, remind them of the negative consequences (where you started). If they continue to argue, try again later.

Two key takeaways for friends and family

Admitting a problem is always the first step. In the early stages, problem gamblers are in denial; in later stages, they stop trying to deny it.

Talking about addiction sooner rather than later can make a real difference in the gambler’s recovery. If you wait too long, recovery will be more difficult.

Helping someone seek professional help

Focus on the benefits of seeking treatment and living without gambling. Offer to help research treatment options and resources.

Provide support and reassurance once the problem gambler participates in counseling, support groups and other services.

Problem gamblers will experience doubt and anxiety during recovery. Remind them that you believe in them and how much they mean to you.

Additional tips for friends and family

Protect yourself. Consider safeguarding bank accounts and other assets so that gamblers do not have access to them.

Do not offer to finance, sign for or consolidate a person’s gambling debts. Evidence has shown this will not help the problem gambler, and will only make matters worse.

Remember that problem gambling is a disease, not a decision. Remind problem gamblers that you love them and that help is available.