Advice for helping someone with a gambling problem

Friends and family are usually the first to detect that gambling has become a problem. They can recognize the problem long before the gambler can. If your family member, friend, or coworker gambles too much, you may feel helpless, worried, or even angry. Here are some ways you can help:

Do’s

  • Choose the right time to address the problem. Come up with a few key points ahead of time to drive your conversation
  • Recognize that the gambler feels torn—it’s a natural reaction
  • Speak using “I” terms: Start all your sentences with “I think…” or “It appears to me that…” This way, this will help prevent the person from feeling attacked and becoming defensive.
  • Identify facts that are signs of a gambling problem
  • Openly but neutrally ask the person how they perceive the situation
  • Ask if they are willing to make changes
  • Remain calm while you discuss gambling and its consequences
  • Set clear personal boundaries
  • Acknowledge the person’s qualities
  • Be sure to guard your own finances
  • Talk freely about your concerns
  • If you are a spouse, explain the problem to your children in age-appropriate terms and only tell them the necessary details
  • Explain your expectations and how you want him or her to change. Say that you are seeking help for yourself
  • If you are a family member, address family finances and put boundaries in place. If the gambler is not willing to negotiate, make arrangements to safeguard your own finances as much as you can

Don’ts

  • Act as though you are better than the person with the problem
  • Lecture or preach
  • Seek out an argument or confrontation
  • Give ultimatums or make threats, unless you plan to follow through on them
  • Loan money to, or bail out, the gambler
  • Shut out the individual from activities (family or social)
  • Expect an immediate change—recovery requires time and commitment
  • Place blame on the person
  • Gamble with the person
  • Ignore or make excuses for the problem to yourself, family, or others