Gambling addiction is more common than you might have previously thought.
You may take part in gambling socially, or perhaps you’re even planning a trip to Las Vegas with some friends. For many people, it may be a fun, controlled activity. But for some, these situations can get out of hand, especially for someone struggling with a gambling addiction.
In 2016, the Gambling Commission reported that there are 350,000 problem gamblers in the UK with two million considered ‘at-risk’. According to a YouGov survey last year, there could be as many as 1.4 million ‘problem gamblers’ and 7% of adults, or 3.6 million people, reported having been negatively affected by someone else’s gambling.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that each problem gambler affects five to 12 other individuals. Gambling addiction can devastate relationships, destroying the sense of trust between partners, which is often a result of the secrecy or lies the addiction leads to.
Do you know the signs to look for if your friend or loved one is among the many people who suffer from an addiction to gambling?
What are the signs your partner is a gambler?
Unlike substance misuse or sex addiction, it can be much easier to hide the signs of problem gambling from others. More so than ever now, given the recent increase in accessibility and prevalence of online gambling in recent years.
- Spending lots of time away. Being away from the home and being vague or secretive. Some gamblers will try to gamble discreetly and may get up early in the morning to do so while their spouse or family are asleep.
- Emotional highs and lows. Gambling can affect mood. Does this person sometimes seem incredibly excitable and positive but then very low, frustrated or even angry at times?
- A change in behaviour over time. You may feel like your partner’s behaviour has changed gradually, becoming increasingly difficult or secretive.
- Secretive around finances. Does your partner become cagey or defensive on the topic of money? Have they taken steps to conceal bank statements?
- Money going out of accounts without explanation. If you are spending large amounts of cash, it’s not always possible to hide it. Have you noticed any unexplained payments coming out of your bank accounts?
- Secretive around internet use. Does your spouse regularly delete their internet history, or if questioned about their use of the internet, are they ambiguous and evasive?
What Can I Do?
If you suspect someone you know of having a gambling problem, there are many support organisations out there. Encouraging them to get help from a professional is the most effective support you can give them.
However, it is important to remember that although you have been affected by a person's gambling to the point where you are ready for them to change, they may not be ready yet. You can seek professional help and offer support, but change requires the other person to be willing to engage with this support.
Talking to Someone With Gambling Problems
Many gamblers may not know they have a problem, and some may deny how excessive it has become. As a result, it can be a huge step to accept that their gambling is a problem.
- Talk it through. Although confronting someone about a gambling issue can be challenging, the best thing you can do is start by asking someone if the issue exists. Admitting to the problem is often the hardest part.
- Explain how you feel. How does their gambling impact you and make you feel? It is important to discuss this and process your own feelings.
- Be supportive. Show them that you are willing to be there and support them. Stay calm, be discreet and learn about what they're experiencing, so that you can be there when they need you.
- Be patient. You may feel like you need to make appointments for them or go with them to therapy sessions, and encouragement is good, but constantly pushing may cause them to become stressed and turn back to gambling. Gambling recovery takes time and relapse is part of the process of recovery.
- Avoid confrontation. Do not lose control, if you try to speak to the person and they become confrontational, take a deep breath and avoid arguing.
- Don’t be quick to judge. Rather than condemn their actions, be supportive and ask questions. Asking questions shows a willingness to understand their problem and help.
- Support groups. There are many problem gambling support groups and organisations out there, whether that be: contacting a GP, counsellor or charity who can provide them with advice and support. There are also many support groups dedicated to helping those who are affected by others' problem gambling. Find a list of support organisations below.
National Gambling Helpline
The National Gambling Helpline (0808 8020 133) operates 24/7, 365 days a year. . The service is delivered by gambling treatment provider Gamcare and will give you advice on what your next steps should be. Their advisors are trained to deliver both emotional support and accurate information to aid those in need.
Gamblers Anonymous is a support group for those who are struggling with gambling problems. GA is made up of men and women who share their experiences in the hopes of overcoming their common problem and assisting others in recovering from a gambling addiction.
Gam-Anon is a support group for people who are husbands, wives, partners, relatives or close friends of someone with a gambling problem and who have been affected by this. Gam-Anon work to provide practical advice and assistance to affected others whilst also creating more awareness and understanding of gambling-related harm.
GamFam is a recovery and support group designed specifically for families of the disordered gambler. It offers a strong support network so others can understand the full extent of the problem and speak with those who can relate to their situation. It provides advice on how families can help themselves, along with practical tips for the day-to-day.
Citizens Advice has joined forces with GambleAware to provide assistance to gamblers, and those affected by gambling who are struggling with debt through StepChange. The StepChange Debt Charity offers free and confidential debt advice over the telephone and online to those in need of support.