How can I tell if someone close to me has a gambling addiction?
Gambling addiction and problem gambling are disorders which often have similar consequences to a substance addiction. Often all aspects of life are affected and the person becomes out of control. When gambling becomes the driving motivational force in life this can cause serious emotional and mental health issues, often accompanied by extreme feelings of shame and embarrassment.
There is a clear link between gambling addiction and suicide. 1 in 4 attempt suicide, a higher rate than for any other addictive disorder, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. With this is mind, when you are worried about a partner, friend, colleague or family member, it’s important that you do not ignore the issue – acknowledgment and support are the first steps to recovery and a healthier life.
What are the signs?
The thrill of gambling naturally causes ups and downs depending on their current situation. You may notice erratic behaviour, an increase in aggression and agitation, or unexplained emotional highs.
Online gambling in particular is a very anti-social activity that often requires concentration and quick thinking. They may neglect their other hobbies, social events and other areas of life, due to constantly thinking about their addiction. They may disappear for full evenings or even longer periods without explanation.
Insomnia and Tiredness
Constant emotional ups and downs are tiring for anybody, so sleep may be disrupted. Financial stress and lies can also cause anxiety which can disrupt sleep. There is also always an opportunity to gamble at any hour of the day – be it at late night casinos or online – so gamblers may stay up late and therefore be noticeably more tired than usual after sessions.
Gambling addiction is heavily associated with money problems. It should be noted, however, that financial difficulty is a common result of a gambling problem, but there does not need to be financial strain for an addiction to be present. If you pay off all of their debts, it doesn’t wipe away the problem. That being said, gambling can result in difficulty that results in taking out additional loans, payday loans or selling personal items, often without any explanation as to where the funds have gone.
Lack of Concentration
When addiction is present, all other aspects of life become less important for the person, including day to day life, hobbies and work. All energy and concentration is placed on gambling and the consequences of this, which can result in a lack of motivation and visible lethargy.
Periods of absence, lack of money, increased tiredness and decreased motivation could be explained easily, but people with gambling addiction often feel shame and embarrassment about their problem. They will often offer no explanation for any noticeable changes in their behaviour.
- Seek professional help and share experiences with other families.
- Take control of the finances – if you can – to deter further money difficulties.
- Try to listen openly without anger when discussing the problem.
- Try to remember all the great things about the person; don’t forget your friend is still there but has an illness, and needs your help.
- Encourage self-exclusion and blocking software.
- Discuss mental health openly and don’t be afraid to tackle the issue of suicidal thoughts. Talking openly shows you are not intimidated by the problem and you are willing to listen. You may find the GamCare Self-Assessment Tool useful.
- Find out as much as you can about gambling problems and solutions, such as through gambling charities or from the Gambling Commission.
- Give them money to pay off debts, this doesn’t fix the problem, it merely covers up the financial consequences.
- Give them an ultimatum.
- Expect the problem to go away quickly – cognitive behavioural therapy or other talking therapies may be needed and so there will likely be a long road ahead with many ups and downs.
- Judge, lecture, condemn or become aggressive.
- Shrug off the issue as ‘not a big deal’ as this will only contribute to their feelings of shame, delusion and isolation.
More Information and Resources
If you would like any more information on the issues in this post, you can read more from CALM or take a look at some of the resources below.
- Gambling Behaviour, The Health and Social Care Information Centre, 2013
- Gambling Addiction and Problem Gambling, Help Guide
- Types of Gamblers: Compulsive Gamblers and More, Health Place
- How to Help Someone With a Gambling Problem, The Hub
- Problem Gambling, Royal College of Psychiatrists
About The Author
Emma Bennett is a Charity Blogger, Volunteer Coordinator and Management Trustee for a local supplementary school. Emma is extremely passionate about mental wellness and has worked extensively on a wide variety of Third Sector projects. She writes and works in digital for High Speed Training, who provide online safeguarding courses. @emm_benn
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