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.


Gambling Addiction Leads to Prison for PA Woman- How to Avoid Her Fate

A former Harrisburg, PA bank manager was recently sentenced to two years in federal prison for stealing money from bank customers to fuel a gambling addiction. Earlier this year, federal authorities charged her with taking about $140,000 from four customers at two area banks.

Are you worried about your own gambling behavior—and what it could do to you or your family?

Gambling addiction is a serious condition in which a person can no longer control their urge to gamble. He or she will wager money even when they know it will hurt themselves or others.

This condition progresses over time, just like substance abuse and other addictions. It can cause problems in a person’s life even if it hasn’t gotten to the point where the gambler turns to theft, forgery, or other crimes. A problem gambler might not play every day; it could happen in binges over short periods.

Compulsive Gambling Warning Signs
  • Do you act secretively regarding how much time or money you spend gambling?
  • Have you tried to stop or cut back on your own without success?
  • Do you lose sleep at night worrying about gambling-related money problems?
  • Have you and loved ones argued about your gambling behavior?
  • Do loved ones or friends express concern?
  • Have you played to relieve stress, anxiety, sadness, or loneliness?

Learn more about your risk by taking the quiz on the SafeStakes home page.

Treatment for Problem Gambling in PA

Talk therapy: A counselor trained in problem gambling treatment will help you identify the negative thoughts and emotions that trigger the behavior. The gambling addiction therapist will also teach you to reframe those thoughts so you can make healthier decisions. In addition, you’ll be assessed for other conditions, like substance abuse or depression, which sometimes contribute to problem gambling. See Treatment for a list of providers in Lancaster, Lebanon, and the surrounding area.

Self-help groups: Gamblers Anonymous and similar groups offer support family and friends aren’t always able to provide. During meetings, you’ll connect with people going through the same struggles. Some will be like you—just starting the recovery journey. Others will be several months or years into recovery, and they’re able to offer “been there, done that” guidance. Find out more in Self-Help Groups for Problem Gambling-FAQs.

Medication: In some cases, medication may help reduce the urge to gamble. Naltrexone and memantine are two of the prescription drugs sometimes used to treat gambling addiction. Medication is not intended to be used on its own—it’s used to support other treatments, like professional therapy.

You don’t need to hit rock bottom to start living a better life. Break free from problem gambling by calling Compass Mark at (717) 299-2831 or submitting this help form. We’ll point you to addiction education, prevention, and treatment resources in Lancaster and Lebanon.