Help for Family Members

Problem gambling hurts families

Problem gambling is a recognized psychological impulse control disorder. A problem gambler will spend much more on gambling than the family can afford. Debts may be hidden from family until they get out of control, when the problem gambler asks to be helped out and promises to stop gambling. However, unless genuine steps are taken to overcome the gambling problem, the gambler may relapse.

Signs of problem gambling

Problem gamblers can be highly secretive about their gambling. Sometimes families suspect a gambling problem, but are not sure. Signs of a gambling problem include:

  • Unexplained debt
  • Often borrows but rarely repays
  • Household property disappears
  • Unpaid bills
  • Missing financial statements
  • Secretive
  • Unexplained absences
  • Loss of interest in family activities
  • Moody, irritable
  • Phone calls from angry creditors

What family members can do

Responding to a problem gambler requires both compassion and firmness. It is important to express your concern to your family member and your willingness to support them in overcoming their gambling problem. Talk about your feelings and reasons why gambling is hurting the family. Ask the family member what steps they are willing to take to overcome their gambling problem.

At the same time, you should be firm on financial matters. Don't lend money to a problem gambler, as it will probably just be lost gambling. Try to separate joint finances so that the problem gambler will not be able to access your money for gambling.

Encourage the family member to take positive steps to deal with their gambling. It is not good enough for the family member to simply make a promise to stop gambling. There needs to be genuine action to back up the words. The problem gambler should seek counselling, and try Gambler's Anonymous. They should consider self-excluding from local gambling venues. They should be open with you about their financial situation and display a new interest in family activities.

If the gambler makes promises that they repeatedly do not keep, then they may not be serious about stopping gambling. Sometimes problem gamblers tell their families what they want to hear, rather than the truth. If the problem gambler is not willing to stop gambling, then the family will need to accept that fact. You can't force someone to stop gambling. All you can do is adjust your own circumstances to protect your family from the problem gambler.

It is usually helpful for family members to talk to a gambling counsellor or group such as Gam-Anon about their experiences with a problem gambler. Experts can provide helpful information about problem gambling and specific strategies.

For a clear explanation of problem gambling and what you can do about it, we recommend How to Stop Gambling by Paul Symond, published by Bantam Books.