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How to help a friend

Want to help a friend or colleague with a gambling problem but not sure what to do? Find practical advice and support services below.

Understand what they’re going through

However you’re feeling, it’s important to not blame yourself or the other person. Gambling is an addictive behaviour, and gambling disorder is a recognised medical issue that can develop because of a number of reasons. Quite often, a person who is struggling with their gambling may feel like they have little or no control. Learn about what your friend might be going through so you know the best way to help.

Make sure you’re looking out for you too

If you’re worried about a friend’s gambling, you might be feeling angry, hurt or betrayed if they’ve lied to you or tried to hide their gambling from you. It can be difficult dealing with these emotions, but it is completely normal, so try not to give yourself a hard time about it.

There are many ways you can help a friend who gambles, but remember, it’s not your job to change their behaviour. There are many support services available to help a gambler, and if you’re struggling, there’s help and support for you too.

How to talk to a friend about their gambling

It can be difficult to know where to start, especially if your friend doesn’t recognise that they have a gambling problem. Often people try to convince themselves that they have their gambling under control when they don’t. If you’re thinking about speaking to your friend about their gambling, the below advice might help you to approach the topic with them.

When speaking to your friend about their gambling, it’s important to let them know that the reason you’re concerned is because you care about them. If they feel they’re understood, they are more likely to talk openly and honestly, which will allow you to develop and negotiate a plan with them. Although it may feel difficult to do so, try to be calm and positive with your communication and avoid saying things that might come across critical or cause confrontation.

Explaining how you feel might help to lessen their defences and keep the conversation open. You could try using ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ to avoid sounding accusatory. We’ve written a few examples to help you start the conversation, but remember to be yourself and speak to your friend as you usually would so your conversation sounds natural and genuine.

  • “I’ve noticed you’ve been gambling/betting a lot recently and it’s starting to make me worry.”
  • "You’re one of my closest friends, which is why I’m saying this. I’m a bit concerned because I’ve seen you do things that are really risky."
  • "You’re my best mate. I don’t want you to feel like you need to hide anything from me. Talk to me about what’s going on."
  • "I can see you’re not happy at the moment and that upsets me. I want to help you with this.”
  • “I know you’ve been gambling a lot recently. I don’t judge you, but I’m a little worried. How are you feeling about it?”

Once you’ve started the conversation, be patient and listen carefully to what they say without being judgemental. Try not to interrupt when they’re talking, as this might stop them from wanting to talk, or make them defensive. It’s important to be calm and caring, but be careful not to allow them to make excuses for their gambling. If your friend seems comfortable with telling you that they’re struggling with gambling, try suggesting that they seek professional support.

If your friend is under the age of 18, see our advice on how to help a young person.

Key steps to take financially

If your friend is having financial difficulties because of gambling, encourage them to get professional financial support. You could also encourage them to speak to their bank, as there may be a number of ways they can help as well. They may find it useful to use gambling blocking tools too.

It’s a good idea to make sure you’re protecting your own finances as well, by keeping your passwords private and debit cards safe.

Avoid rewarding gambling behaviour

Giving or lending money to a friend to pay off their gambling debt might seem like a sensible solution, but it’s likely to make their problem worse. It also puts your own finances at risk. It’s not recommended, but if you do decide to lend them money, make sure you have financial controls in place to ensure the money can’t be spent on gambling.

Reward positive behaviour

A system that rewards positive behaviour could be really helpful. For example, you might consider not lending your friend money if they continue to gamble, however, if they cut back or stop gambling you could offer to conditionally help them pay off a bill.

If they’re doing well, make sure you tell them so that they can recognise the positive impact of their behaviour too. For example, you could say to them:

  • “I’m really proud of you for sticking at this, I know it’s been hard but it’s going to be worth it.”
  • “I’ve noticed things seem so much better with your partner/family since you’ve stopped gambling.”
  • “You’ve made so much progress over the past few months. It makes me really happy to see you happier too.”
  • “I was really worried about you last year. You’re doing amazing. I know it hasn’t been easy.”

Keep in mind that when a gambler has paid off all their debts, this can be a time when they are vulnerable to relapse. For example, some gamblers may begin convincing themselves that once the debts are paid off, a small gamble may be acceptable. If this happens, try not to feel disheartened. A lapse or slip up can be a good way of finding out how to adjust your plan to help them stay on track. You can learn more about understanding gambling behaviour here.