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Understanding someone who gambles

Trying to understand someone’s gambling behaviour? We’ve put together some useful information to help you understand what they might be going through.

Be aware of the signs

You might not want to believe that someone you know or love is having difficulties with gambling, but you may have noticed them acting differently. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • They’re spending more money and time on gambling than they can afford
  • They find it hard to manage or stop gambling
  • They have arguments with family or friends about money and gambling
  • They’ve lost interest in usual activities like spending time with friends or family
  • They’re always thinking or talking about gambling
  • They lie about gambling or hide it from other people
  • They chase their losses or use gambling to get out of financial trouble
  • They gamble until all their money is gone
  • They borrow money, sell possessions or avoid paying bills in order to pay for gambling
  • They gamble with larger amounts of money or for a longer amount of time
  • They neglect work, school, family, personal needs or household responsibilities
  • They feel anxious, worried, guilty, depressed or irritable.

Remember, sometimes gambling behaviour can be hidden.

It can be really difficult to know if someone is struggling with gambling, as sometimes it’s hard to see the physical effects of someone who’s gambling too much. People sometimes say they feel that they should have noticed sooner, but remember the person gambling may have gone to great lengths to hide it from you – especially if they have feelings of guilt or shame.

Understanding what they’re going through

If you can understand what a person who is gambling is going through, you’ll be able to help them more effectively.

Quite often, a person who is struggling with their gambling may feel like they have little or no control. They may be experiencing shame, guilt and remorse, and may also feel an added sense of guilt because of how their behaviour might be impacting others. Experiencing these emotions can be overwhelming, which may stop them from thinking clearly about their actions. These distressing thoughts can often lead to more gambling.

Someone who gambles may also feel a desperation to try and get back the money they’ve lost. This can lead them to behave in ways that might appear "out of character”, which can be a shock for family and friends. Understanding that gambling is an addictive behaviour, and that gambling disorder is a recognised medical condition, can be important in helping you to understand why someone might be behaving in a way that can feel hard to explain.

Know the stages

When someone starts to want change their gambling behaviour, there are often different stages that they move through. These include:

  1. Not intending to change - If they are in this stage, the gambler may feel that the positives of gambling outweigh the negatives. They enjoy gambling and don't see it as a problem, and gambling may not be causing any particular harm to the gambler or those around them. 
  2. Thinking about it - People at this stage have mixed feelings about their gambling. Often they enjoy it, even though they know that it costs time and money. If they are in this stage they might be thinking about making a change.
  3. Getting ready - People in this stage feel ready to control or stop their gambling and have made the decision to do something about it. They may have picked a date in the very near future on which to start making changes.
  4. Taking action - They’ve begun doing the work on changing their gambling behaviour. They might be getting together a package of strategies that they can use to help them change their behaviour. Support is important for the gambler at this time as they may be experiencing difficult emotions as they reflect on the consequences of their gambling.
  5. Maintaining change - This stage can be hard. It is when people have identified all the things they need to do to change their behaviour and they have started to put these things into practice. What they need now is practice, practice and more practice. This is the time when they can turn new behaviours into a habit, but it can be difficult to maintain, so support from others can be really helpful.
  6. Recovery - recovery can look different for different people, but most people in recovery from gambling disorder are able to live their life free from any worries about the impact of their gambling. 

Gambling disorder is a relapsing condition, so it’s possible that someone trying to control their gambling might start gambling again. If this happens, try not to feel disheartened. A lapse can be a way of finding out how to adjust the plan to stay on track. Seeking support for the gambler and for yourself can be really helpful. 

Understanding these stages can help you decide on the best way to help. For example, you may be ready for your friend or family member to start making changes, while they may still be thinking about it and are not ready or sure that they want to change at all.

Accepting and working within the stage that the other person is in is important in helping someone with a gambling problem. 

Understanding your feelings too

If you’re worried about someone’s gambling, you might also be feeling angry, hurt or betrayed. It can be difficult dealing with these emotions, but it is completely normal.

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. There are many ways you can help someone 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.

Watch Danni's story to hear how her partner's gambling affected her, and how she found help and support.