Helping Someone With a Gambling Disorder

Gambling involves risking something of value on an activity that is primarily based on chance in the hope of realizing a profit. While most individuals enjoy gambling as a social activity, a small group become excessively involved in the activity, to the extent that it negatively affects their personal, family and financial lives. This is known as pathological gambling or compulsive gambling. It is distinguished from other types of impulsive behavior in that it is characterized by a preoccupation with the activity, an inability to control impulses to gamble, and a compulsion to do so even when faced with negative consequences.

Gamblers exhibit a wide range of negative psychological symptoms and behaviors, including denial, repression, guilt, anxiety and depression. In addition, they may feel a need to be secretive about their gambling or lie to others about it. They often have trouble controlling their finances, resulting in frequent late bills, overdrafts and overdue credit card payments. They may also jeopardize their careers, relationships and educational pursuits in an attempt to meet financial obligations. They are also at high risk for suicide; studies show that the rate of suicidal thinking and attempts is higher among problem gamblers than among those with other psychiatric disorders.

There are a number of things you can do to help someone struggling with a gambling disorder. It is important to encourage them to seek professional help. This can be done by arranging for counseling through a local mental health agency or by referring them to a therapist specializing in gambling addiction. You can also try to help them find other ways to relieve unpleasant feelings and to socialize. For example, you can suggest that they join a book club, sports team or volunteer for a charitable organization. You can also ask them to join a peer support group like Gamblers Anonymous, which is modeled on Alcoholics Anonymous and uses the 12-step program of recovery.

Finally, you can help them set financial boundaries and monitor their spending. You can take over the management of their money, review bank and credit card statements, and talk to a mental health professional about local referral resources for certified gambling counselors or intensive treatment programs. It is important to remember that, despite the fact that they are exhibiting problematic gambling behavior, your loved one is not immoral and should be treated with respect. Doing so can help them regain control of their life and overcome their gambling disorder. In fact, most problem gamblers will recover if they get the help they need.