How to Help Someone with a Gambling Addiction

Written by Steve Rose

Steve Rose, PhD, is an addiction counsellor and former academic researcher, committed to conveying complex topics in simple language.

Gambling addiction is a behavioral disorder characterized by the uncontrollable urge to gamble despite the negative consequences it may bring to the individual’s life. This addiction can have a profound impact on relationships, finances, and mental well-being.

Support and understanding from friends and family play a crucial role in helping individuals overcome gambling addiction. This comprehensive guide aims to provide information on how to help someone with a gambling addiction.

In short, it requires you to recognize the warning signs, approach with empathy, encourage professional help, provide ongoing support, support healthy coping mechanisms, in addition to having boundaries and seeking support for yourself.

Lets delve into each of these areas in further detail.

Recognize the Signs of Gambling Addiction

Recognizing the signs of gambling addiction can be challenging, especially since those affected often go to great lengths to hide their problem. However, being aware of the common warning signs can help you identify if someone you care about is struggling with a gambling addiction.

Financial Warning Signs

Borrowing money or taking out loans: A person with a gambling addiction may frequently borrow money from friends, family members, or even take out loans to fund their habit. They may have difficulty repaying these debts or constantly ask for financial help without explaining why.

Unexplained financial losses: If you notice unexplained financial losses, missing funds, or a sudden decrease in their savings, this may be a sign of a gambling problem. Additionally, they may frequently pawn or sell personal belongings to finance their gambling.

Behavioral Warning Signs

Preoccupation with gambling: A gambling addict often spends an excessive amount of time thinking about or planning their gambling activities. They may be constantly checking scores, odds, or talking about their gambling experiences.

Lying about gambling activities: Individuals with gambling addiction may become secretive about their activities and lie to friends and family members about the extent of their gambling or the amount of money they have lost.

Emotional Warning Signs

Irritability or restlessness: Gambling addicts may display irritability, restlessness, or mood swings, especially when they are unable to gamble. This could be a sign that gambling has become a psychological dependency.

Depression or anxiety related to gambling: If an individual is experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety due to their gambling activities, it is a strong indication that they may have a gambling problem. They may also express feelings of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts in extreme cases.

Approach the Individual with Gambling Addiction

Preparing for the Conversation

Before approaching someone with a gambling problem, it is essential to prepare yourself for the conversation. This involves educating yourself on the nature of gambling addiction, gathering facts and evidence to support your concerns, and reflecting on your emotions and expectations.

Educate yourself on gambling addiction: Learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for gambling addiction. This will help you better understand the person’s struggles and provide accurate information during the conversation. For more information, you can see my article on How Gambling Addiction Works. You can also see my article, Online Gambling Addiction: A Growing Problem.

Gather facts and evidence: Collect specific examples and evidence of the person’s gambling behavior, such as unexplained financial losses or time spent away from family and friends. This will help you present your concerns in a clear and factual manner.

Reflect on your emotions and expectations: Consider how you feel about the situation and what you hope to achieve from the conversation. Make sure your intentions are focused on helping the person rather than simply expressing your frustration or disappointment.

Choosing the Right Time and Place

Selecting an appropriate time and place for the conversation is crucial to ensure the person feels comfortable and receptive to your concerns.

Select a private and comfortable environment: Choose a quiet and private location where you can have an uninterrupted conversation. This will help the person feel more at ease and willing to open up about their struggles.

Ensure enough time for an in-depth discussion: Set aside ample time for the conversation, so both parties can express their thoughts and feelings without feeling rushed. Avoid initiating the conversation when either of you has pressing commitments or distractions.

Avoid confronting them during a time of high stress: Try to choose a moment when the person is relatively calm and composed. Approaching them during a period of high stress or emotional turmoil may cause them to become defensive or unresponsive to your concerns.

Using Empathetic and Non-judgmental Language

Using empathetic and non-judgmental language during the conversation can help the person feel understood and supported, which may increase their willingness to acknowledge their problem and seek help.

Express your concerns using “I” statements: Using “I” statements allows you to express your concerns without sounding accusatory. For example, say, “I have noticed that you have been spending a lot of time gambling recently, and I am concerned about the impact it may have on your well-being” instead of “You are gambling too much.”

Avoid blame, accusations, or ultimatums: Refrain from using language that may make the person feel blamed or attacked, as this could cause them to become defensive and unwilling to listen to your concerns. Similarly, avoid presenting ultimatums, which may only exacerbate the situation and strain your relationship.

Acknowledge the person’s feelings and emotions: Validate the person’s emotions and let them know that you understand their struggles. This can help create an environment of trust and compassion, making them more likely to consider seeking help.

Being Prepared for Different Reactions

It’s essential to be prepared for various reactions when approaching someone with a gambling problem, as they may respond with denial, anger, or defensiveness.

Understand that denial, anger, and defensiveness are common: Recognize that it is natural for someone with a gambling addiction to feel threatened or embarrassed when confronted about their problem. Be patient and understanding if they react defensively or deny that they have an issue.

Remain calm and composed during the conversation: Keep a calm and composed demeanor throughout the conversation, even if the person reacts negatively. Avoid raising your voice or becoming argumentative, as this may escalate the situation and hinder the effectiveness of the discussion.

Offer support and reassurance without enabling the addiction: Emphasize your desire to help the person overcome their addiction and let them know that you are there to support them. However, avoid offering financial assistance or participating in their gambling activities, as this may inadvertently enable their addiction.

Encourage Professional Help

Once the person acknowledges their gambling problem, it’s important to encourage them to seek professional help. This may involve sharing information on treatment options, offering to help with the search for professionals, and discussing financial assistance options if necessary.

Sharing Information on Treatment Options

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Explain the benefits of CBT, a widely used and effective form of therapy that helps individuals identify and change unhealthy thought patterns and behaviors related to gambling. CBT can equip them with coping strategies and tools for managing their addiction.

Support groups (e.g., Gamblers Anonymous): Introduce the person to support groups like Gamblers Anonymous, which provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals with gambling problems to share their experiences and learn from others in similar situations. Support groups can be an invaluable resource for ongoing encouragement and accountability.

Offering to Help with the Search for Professionals

Assist the person in finding appropriate treatment providers, such as therapists or counselors specializing in gambling addiction. Offer to accompany them to appointments or support group meetings if they feel uncomfortable going alone.

Discussing Financial Assistance Options, if Necessary

If the person is concerned about the cost of treatment, help them explore potential financial assistance options. These may include insurance coverage, sliding-scale fees, or even charitable organizations that offer subsidized treatment for gambling addiction. Encouraging them to prioritize their mental health and well-being over the cost of treatment can also help alleviate their concerns.

Provide Ongoing Support

Providing ongoing support is crucial to helping someone with a gambling addiction maintain their recovery and prevent relapses.

Establishing Open Communication

Maintain open and honest communication with the person throughout their recovery journey. Encourage them to express their thoughts, feelings, and concerns, and be willing to listen without judgment. This can help build a strong support system and foster trust in your relationship.

Encouraging Healthy Coping Mechanisms and Hobbies

Help the person identify and engage in healthy coping mechanisms and hobbies that can serve as alternatives to gambling. This may include exercise, meditation, creative pursuits, or social activities. Encouraging them to develop new interests and maintain a balanced lifestyle can help reduce the allure of gambling.

Setting Boundaries to Protect Your Own Well-being

While it’s important to support the person with a gambling addiction, it’s equally crucial to protect your own well-being. Set boundaries to ensure you are not enabling their addiction or neglecting your own needs. This may involve refraining from providing financial assistance or participating in gambling activities with them.

Support a Relapse Prevention Plan

Help the person create and adhere to a relapse prevention plan to minimize the risk of returning to their gambling behaviors.

Identifying and Avoiding Triggers

Work with the person to identify potential triggers that may lead to a relapse, such as stress, specific situations, or particular people. Develop strategies to avoid or manage these triggers, and encourage them to communicate with their support system when they feel vulnerable.

Encouraging Regular Check-ins with Support Systems

Support the person in maintaining regular contact with their support systems, such as therapists, support groups, and friends or family members. Frequent check-ins can provide accountability and ongoing encouragement throughout their recovery journey.

Celebrating Milestones and Progress

Acknowledge and celebrate the person’s milestones and progress in overcoming their gambling addiction. This can help boost their self-esteem, reinforce their commitment to recovery, and remind them of the positive changes they have made in their life.

Coping Strategies for Family and Friends

Supporting someone with a gambling addiction can be emotionally draining and challenging. It’s essential for family and friends to develop their coping strategies and seek support for themselves.

Understanding the Impact of Addiction on Relationships

Recognize the toll that addiction can take on relationships and be prepared for the challenges that may arise. This may involve dealing with feelings of anger, disappointment, or guilt. Understanding the complexities of addiction and its impact can help you maintain realistic expectations and develop empathy for the person’s struggles.

Seeking Support for Yourself

Consider seeking therapy or joining a support group specifically designed for friends and family members of individuals with gambling addiction. These resources can provide valuable insights, coping strategies, and a safe space to share your experiences with others in similar situations.

Setting Realistic Expectations for Recovery

Understand that recovery from gambling addiction is a long and often difficult process, with the potential for setbacks and relapses. Set realistic expectations for the person’s progress and be prepared to offer continued support and understanding throughout their journey.

Helping vs. Enabling Someone with a Gambling Addiction

When supporting someone with a gambling addiction, it’s essential to understand the difference between helping and enabling. Helping involves providing constructive support that promotes recovery, while enabling involves behaviors that unintentionally support or perpetuate the addiction.

Helping Behaviors

Helping someone with a gambling addiction involves providing emotional, practical, and informational support that encourages positive change and fosters recovery. Examples of helpful actions include:

Offering a listening ear: Be available for the person to share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns without judgment. This can help them feel understood and supported.

Encouraging professional help: Motivate the person to seek therapy, counseling, or support groups that can provide valuable guidance and tools for overcoming their addiction.

Promoting healthy coping mechanisms: Help the person identify alternative activities and hobbies that can replace gambling, reducing the risk of relapse.

Supporting a relapse prevention plan: Assist the person in identifying potential triggers and developing strategies to avoid or manage them.

Enabling Behaviors

Enabling behaviors may seem helpful on the surface, but they can inadvertently perpetuate the person’s gambling addiction. Examples of enabling actions include:

Providing financial assistance: Repeatedly lending money or covering the person’s gambling debts can create a safety net that allows them to continue gambling without facing the consequences of their actions.

Minimizing the problem: Downplaying the severity of the person’s gambling addiction or making excuses for their behavior can hinder their ability to recognize the problem and seek help.

Participating in gambling activities with the person: Engaging in gambling activities with the person, even if it’s intended as a social or recreational activity, can reinforce their addiction and undermine their recovery efforts.

Rescuing the person from the consequences of their actions: Constantly bailing the person out of difficult situations related to their gambling can prevent them from experiencing the natural consequences of their addiction, which may be necessary for them to recognize the need for change.

To strike the right balance between helping and enabling, it’s important to focus on providing support that encourages personal growth, self-reflection, and recovery. Be mindful of the potential consequences of your actions and avoid behaviors that may inadvertently support the person’s addiction. Setting boundaries to protect your own well-being and maintaining open communication can help create a healthier dynamic and promote a more successful recovery journey.


Supporting someone with a gambling addiction requires patience, understanding, and a genuine desire to help them overcome their struggles. By recognizing the signs of gambling addiction, approaching the person with empathy, and encouraging professional help, you can play a vital role in their recovery

journey. Providing ongoing support, promoting healthy coping mechanisms, and supporting a relapse prevention plan are essential for helping the person maintain their progress and build a more fulfilling, gambling-free life.

Remember that coping with a loved one’s gambling addiction can also be challenging for friends and family members. Seeking support for yourself and setting realistic expectations for recovery can help you navigate the complexities of addiction and foster healthier relationships.

Ultimately, the power of support and understanding should not be underestimated in helping someone overcome a gambling addiction. Your patience, empathy, and encouragement can instill hope and resilience in the person as they work toward building a brighter, more fulfilling future.


Here is a list of helpful resources for individuals with gambling addiction and their friends and family members:

National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG)
The NCPG offers a wealth of information on problem gambling, including prevention, education, and treatment resources. They also provide a national helpline (1-800-522-4700) that offers confidential support and referrals to local resources.

Gamblers Anonymous (GA)
Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step support group for individuals struggling with gambling addiction. Their website provides information on local GA meetings, literature, and an online forum for members to share their experiences and support one another.

Gam-Anon is a support group specifically designed for friends and family members of individuals with gambling addiction. They offer meetings, literature, and an online forum where members can share their experiences, gain insights, and find support from others in similar situations.

National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG)
The NCRG is dedicated to promoting responsible gaming and providing resources for the prevention, education, and treatment of gambling disorders. Their website features a variety of research, resources, and tools for individuals, families, and professionals.

National Institute on Problem Gambling (NIPG)
The NIPG is a non-profit organization that provides information, resources, and support for individuals with gambling addiction and their loved ones. Their website offers educational materials, self-assessment tools, and a directory of treatment providers.

International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors
This organization focuses on addressing youth gambling issues and provides resources, research, and training for individuals, educators, and professionals. Their website offers a wealth of information on youth gambling prevention and intervention strategies.

These resources can provide valuable information, support, and guidance for individuals with gambling addiction and their friends and family members. If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help and explore the resources available to you.

Fascinated by ideas? Check out my podcast:

Struggling with an addiction?

If you’re struggling with an addiction, it can be difficult to stop. Gaining short-term relief, at a long-term cost, you may start to wonder if it’s even worth it anymore. If you’re looking to make some changes, feel free to reach out. I offer individual addiction counselling to clients in the US and Canada. If you’re interested in learning more, you can send me a message here.

Other Mental Health Resources

If you are struggling with other mental health issues or are looking for a specialist near you, use the Psychology Today therapist directory here to find a practitioner who specializes in your area of concern.

If you require a lower-cost option, you can check out It is one of the most flexible forms of online counseling. Their main benefit is lower costs, high accessibility through their mobile app, and the ability to switch counselors quickly and easily, until you find the right fit.

*As an affiliate partner with Better Help, I receive a referral fee if you purchase products or services through the links provided.

As always, it is important to be critical when seeking help, since the quality of counselors are not consistent. If you are not feeling supported, it may be helpful to seek out another practitioner. I wrote an article on things to consider here.

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