What to Do if Someone You Love is a Problem Gambler

Finding help for someone with addiction typically isn’t something we learned in school. So what should you do if you know someone struggling to control their gambling behavior? Here’s what to do if a person you love has a gambling problem.

Learn more about the condition.

Gambling addiction is an actual disorder rooted in the brain—it’s not a matter of having “no willpower” or being a “bad” person. Numerous studies have found that people with problem gambling have some brain dysfunctions similar to those with drug addiction. For example, problem gamblers and substance abusers both show weakened brain pathways that play a role in impulse control and decision making.

To learn if your loved one is at risk for gambling addiction, take the quiz on our home page.

Understand that the gambler will need professional help to stop. 

This is a progressive disorder, which means that if not treated, it worsens over time. That progression time frame is different for everyone; however some evidence suggests women may transition to gambling addiction faster than men.

As the addiction takes hold, problem gamblers may spiral into despair because of their circumstances, which often stay hidden from others until the situation becomes overwhelming. This increases the risk for developing clinical depression or attempting suicide.

Since the condition worsens, it’s critical that the problem gambler seek help sooner rather than later. This is especially true for senior gamblers; they have less time to recover financially from the economic toll this addiction takes.

Long-term recovery from gambling addiction is often supported with a combination of treatments, including talk therapy, lifestyle changes, stress management techniques, and self-help groups, like Gamblers Anonymous.

Take control of your own finances.

If your money is linked to the problem gambler’s finances, take steps to separate accounts so the gambler cannot access the money you need to provide for yourself and your family. In addition to opening a separate—sole—checking or savings account, take your name off shared credit card accounts. Don’t give the problem gambler any access to the new accounts you open (i.e. no debit cards, PINs, or checks).

Seek professional help for yourself and other loved ones.

Like all addictions, problem gambling impacts the entire family—and not just from a financial standpoint. Excessive gambling behavior fractures the trust needed to have healthy relationships with a spouse, children, parents, and siblings.

Regardless of whether your loved one seeks treatment, you and other family members should take steps to heal your own emotional well-being. Talk with a therapist to find out how counseling can help you and others cope with the situation in a healthy way. Also, check out Gam-Anon, a group that provides support to the loved ones of problem gamblers.

For confidential guidance or referrals in Lancaster County, PA or Lebanon County, PA, contact the caring team at Compass Mark. Call 717-299-2831 or use our Gambling Help Form.


What to Do When Your Parent or Grandparent Gambles Too Much

Maybe your aging mom has started going on weekend casino binges. Perhaps your grandpa’s so wrapped up in slot machine apps that he now neglects his home or personal hygiene. You sense—or know—there’s a problem, but what do you do next?

Educate yourself.

Compulsive gambling isn’t about lacking willpower or making bad decisions. It’s a diagnosable condition with roots in the brain’s biology. What’s more, some people may be more vulnerable to it than others. Risk factors include starting to gamble at an early age and having a family history of addiction. There’s an additional risk factor for some seniors as well: certain drugs commonly used to treat conditions like Parkinson’s disease can negatively affect impulse control, raising the risk for, among other things, gambling addiction.

Understand that gambling addiction is treatable at any age.

Don’t push aside your concerns because you think your loved one is too old or too set in her ways to change. Professional therapists who are trained to work with gambling-addicted people will offer the tools and resources your parent or grandparent needs to start down the path to recovery.

Don’t preach.

Accusations and heated arguments won’t help your senior loved one realize they may need treatment for gambling addiction. Express your concern using “I” statements. For instance, you might say “I’m worried you won’t have money to pay for your heart medication because of the gambling.”

Seek help sooner rather than later.

Problem gambling is so much more than a money problem, yet there’s no question that money is crucial for supplying necessities like food, shelter, and medication. Younger problem gamblers in recovery may have decades to rebuild their financial security before retirement; in contrast, a senior may already be retired and unable to rebuild the nest egg—and that affects their quality of life. The longer a senior waits to find help, the harder it will be to regain financial stability. Need another reason to get help sooner instead of later? The stress of problem gambling can be the catalyst for serious health issues, including high blood pressure and heart disease.

Take care of your own well-being.

Does your loved one’s addiction to gambling make you angry? Frustrated? Embarrassed? Sad? Those negative emotions can have a big impact on your own life, so don’t ignore them. Talk with a professional counselor. He or she will assess your well-being and provide techniques for dealing with the stress of a loved one’s addiction. In addition, consider going to meetings at Gam-Anon, a group focused on helping gamblers’ family members find comfort and hope.

Take the quiz on our home page to find out if an older loved one is at risk. Then, talk with the Compass Mark team for confidential guidance and gambling resources in Lancaster, PA and Lebanon, PA. Call 717-299-2831 or fill out the very simple Gambling Help Form.

Learn more in 14 Financial Warning Signs for Problem Gambling and 5 Reasons to Get Problem Gambling Help for a Senior–Now.