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Dealing with problem gambling and addiction

For a minority of players, gambling can have an extremely destructive impact on their lives. Learn what to do if you or someone you care for develops a gambling problem.

An unhealthy gambling habit can have a catastrophic effect on a person’s life – destroying their finances, careers and relationships. While there is a difference between problem play and gambling addiction (click here for more information) both can be incredibly damaging.

However, it is never too late to make a change, and there are steps that you can take to help yourself and the people you love recover from problem gambling.

Understanding your condition: am I a problem gambler or an addict?

As we establish here problem gambling is not the same as addiction. Problem gambling is any gambling behaviour that is disruptive to your everyday life.

An addiction is characterised by an inability to stop gambling, even if you are aware that you are suffering as a result. No matter what the circumstances, whether they’re winning or losing, happy or miserable, addicts cannot get gambling out of their heads.

Busting myths about problem gambling and addiction

There are many misconceptions about problem gambling and addiction, which can be extremely misleading for people who suffer from these afflictions.

Myth no. 1: problem gambling is all relative. If you can afford your habit, there is no problem

This is a very common belief, but the fact is the impact of problem gambling goes beyond money. It can cause breakdowns of trust within significant relationships and erode your sense of self-worth.

Myth no. 2: problem gamblers and addicts use gambling to escape bad things in their lives

While this can be true, some addicts and problem gamblers are otherwise very well adjusted and lead normal lives. Problem play really can spring out of nowhere.

Myth no. 3: you have to gamble frequently to become a problem gambler

You can gamble rarely and be a problem gambler. Losing a month’s salary on one punt can certainly be considered a problem.

Myth no. 4: addicts and problem gamblers are all just superstitious and lose because they play badly/play negative expectation games

Sadly, addicts in particular are often perfectly aware that they’re playing against the odds and will continue to bet and lose on negative expectation games.

At the same time, skilled poker players and sports bettors can develop very serious problems when things don’t go their way. Ultimately, losing a lot of money is losing a lot of money, whether or not you think you know what you’re doing.

Okay, I think I have a gambling problem, what should I do?

Well done, recognising your own problem is the first and bravest step towards overcoming your condition. There are things you can do for yourself if you have identified an active gambling problem.

Step one: seek help

Now that you know you have a problem with gambling, it’s time to get some assistance with starting your recovery. If you are based in the United Kingdom, you can access a free addiction helpline through GamCare, who will recommend how to proceed with treatment.

Alternatively, if you are not a UK resident, you can visit Gambling Therapy.org to locate an addiction specialist near you to learn more.

Step two: engage with your own recovery

Seeking advice from specialists is only the beginning. You must also be willing to self-analyse, recognise when your problematic behaviour started and identify your personal ‘triggers’ (feelings, locations or people that cause you to gambling unhealthily).

There will be a steep gradient at first and you may find yourself enduring unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, but it is important to persevere. Once you have committed to your recovery, you will begin to see how irrational and damaging your prior behaviour was.

Step three: staying on the right path

Once you have your behaviour under control, you must continue to rationalise your actions and commit to better, healthier lifestyle choices:

  • Think: take steps to prevent problem behaviour before the opportunity arises. Avoid places where you will be tempted to gamble and find things to distract yourself if gambling enters your mind.
  • Money: if you have been an addict, it might be advisable to put somebody else in charge of your money so that you will not be tempted to gamble.
  • Keep busy: schedule in a lot of enjoyable activities so that you will not fill your down-time with gambling.
  • Talk: whatever has happened in the past, do not be ashamed. Be open and honest about your problems and let the people you trust help you avoid relapses.

Helping family and friends deal with problem gambling and addiction

Dealing with your own addiction is hard enough, but if someone you care about is suffering from an unhealthy gambling habit, tackling with the issue can be harder still.

Even with the best intentions, you risk doing more harm than good if you broach the subject in the wrong way, but the following steps should set you on the right path:

Help yourself first

Don’t blame yourself for somebody else’s problem and don’t be afraid to take any necessary financial or emotional steps to protect yourself.

Seek advice

The charities recommended above can also provide advice that will help you aid another person in the event of a gambling habit. Arm yourself with their knowledge and expertise before proceeding.

Share the load

In addition to experts, approach friends, family and people you trust for advice and support before tackling the issue at hand.

Remain calm

Try not to become angry with the problem gambler. They need you to be constant and controlled if you are to be any help.

Don’t sweep anything under the rug

Do not exclude the problem gambler from everyday life and don’t try to conceal their issues from family or friends. If anything, the attention will help them self-determine towards recovery.

Do NOT provide financial support

Addicts and problem gamblers are very good at asking for money to fund their habit. It is often not their fault, but you could actually inflict more harm by ‘helping them’ with hand-outs.

Help them help themselves

Recovery has to be self-motivated. Addicts in particular must really engage with their own condition and make a conscious commitment to change.

What is Gambling Therapy?

Gambling Therapy is an online support service for individuals who have been adversely affected by gambling. It is a registered charity, affiliated with the Gordon Moody Association.

Gambling Therapy provides support through a number of channels:

  • A live advice online chat function.
  • A number of online groups and forums.
  • Confidential e-mail correspondence.
  • An informational database on support resources in various territories.

How can Gambling Therapy help?

No matter where you are based, if you are suffering addiction, you will benefit from the services provided by Gambling Therapy. All correspondences are completely anonymous. The forums give problem players the opportunity to talk with people in similar circumstances in a safe environment, while a free helpline provides for one-to-one support around the clock.

The website also contains comprehensive information and guidance on the causes, symptoms and impacts of addiction, while their extensive database can provide detailed information about local resources and charities close to you.

Should you contact Gambling Therapy?

Gambling Therapy contains invaluable services and resources for problem players in all territories (the site is optimised for a number of different languages). If you are struggling with gambling, to any degree, you should definitely check out Gambling Therapy.


All support is provided on-site.




Gambling Therapy, 47 Maughan Street, Dudley, West Midlands, DY1 2BA, United Kingdom