Supporting a Problem Gambler

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If a loved one or friend with a gambling problem is looking help, there are several ways in which you can support or help them.

Crisis Intervention & Referral Services
Calling free, confidential and 24/7/36 1-800-GAMBLER helpline is often the first step on the road to recovery. Staffed by masters-level or above counselors, problem gamblers can receive immediate crisis intervention and then learn about the range of treatment and prevention services – many of them FREE – available throughout California.

And if you’re not sure how to approach the situation, you can call too! A counselor can help you figure out the best ways to help your loved one or friend, and can show you how to get help for yourself as well.

Seek Treatment
You can help the gambler by encouraging them to seek professional help.

Overcoming a gambling problem is a difficult process that takes time, but it can be much easier with the help of a professional. Unfortunately, some people fear that going to a professional can make them appear weak or unable to deal with their problems. The reality is quite the opposite: those who seek professional help are smart enough to realize that being helped and educated by the experts gives them the greatest chance of success.

And if they ask you to go with them, keep an open mind yourself and go with them if possible.

Communicate
Keeping the lines of communication open can help to prevent or limit the gambler from returning to gambling (“lapsing”) while in recovery:

  • Encourage them to keep talking openly with you
  • Agree to talk about gambling lapses or loss of control, so triggers that lead to the urge to gamble are understood and can be managed
  • Talk openly about finances, and support their efforts to stick to the budget they create
  • Consider talking to other members of the family so that you can support each other
  • If you feel safe to do so, let the person know their gambling has affected you

Don’t loan them money
You may feel like you’re doing a good thing, or you may even simply be trying to get them “off your back” – but loaning money to a problem gambler is a form of “enabling,” making it easier for them to gamble or avoid taking responsibility for their actions. And after you’ve loaned them money, they are likely to keep returning to you to ask for more.

Saying no to someone in need can be a very hard thing to do, but you won’t be helping them – or yourself – by saying yes. You can respond to requests for financial ‘bailouts’ with an answer that contains these messages:

  • “I care about you and I don’t want you to suffer”
  • “I’m saying ‘no’ for your own good.”1

Protect Yourself
You will probably want to help the gambler in every way you can, but you have an obligation to protect yourself and your family, too:

  • Take steps to protect your family’s assets and income. Seeking professional advice may provide you with information on how to protect your income and assets.
  • Take care of yourself physically and emotionally. It is difficult to help another person if you are in bad emotional or physical condition yourself. Maintain your friendships and continue your interests and hobbies. Do things that you find enjoyable!1

Help them climb gradual steps to change
Most likely, you, your family and your friends want the gambler to change their behavior immediately. Unfortunately, the gambler may not be ready to change yet. The conflicts that arise from this can make a bad situation worse.

Learning about the stages of change and identifying where the person is within them can help when deciding how to approach the situation:1

1) Pre-contemplation – the person does not see that there is a problem

  • What you can do: Discuss how their gambling behavior impacts you. Be prepared for them to be unwilling to stop. Focus on taking care of yourself and establishing boundaries. Protect your family’s assets and income.

2) Contemplation: the person is beginning to consider the need for change, but they are unsure of whether they want to

  • What you can do: Discuss the impact of gambling with the person. You can discuss change, but be careful to avoid pushing them to do it or you rusk the risk of alienating them.

3) Determination: the person is open to change and willing to seek what resources are available to do so

  • What you can do: Allow the person to research what assistance is available. Provide encouragement and offer support.

4) Action: the person actively makes changes. For example, they have stopped or cut down their gambling

  • What you can do:  Ask the person what support they would like from you. Know your own limits of how much you can assist them.

5) Maintenance: the person has been able to maintain behavioral change for a significant period of time

  • What you can do: If you feel comfortable, you can speak to the person about your feelings or you can seek help from a professional

6) Slips and relapses: the person falls back into gambling behavior. This may be a one off (slip) or a return to previous levels of gambling.

  • What you can do: Understand where the person is at in the change process so that you can choose an appropriate response. Recognize that slips and relapses are a normal part of the changing process.1

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