I have discovered a family member has a gambling problem


What can I do?

If you have discovered that someone in your family has developed a gambling addiction then you are probably feeling that you do not know which way to turn. You are probably blaming yourself for not spotting the signs earlier and having sleepless nights worrying about it whilst the gambler themselves seems not to share the same level of concern.  They may actually feel a sense of relief that their ‘secret’ is out.

It is important that you understand and appreciate that a gambling addiction is a recognised mental disorder.  Therefore, it is strongly advised that you do some research to help you develop your knowledge and understanding by reviewing gambling disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly known as the DSM-5.  Online gambling in particular is designed to be addictive and therefore it is.  Our brains are designed in such a way they seek rewards.  A gambling win produces a chemical in the brain called dopamine – the same chemical that many addictive drugs help to produce.  So when a person gambles and wins the brain gives a basic emotional reward.  Addictive behaviour can run in the family.

From the outset you will experience a whole range of emotions such as anger, resentment, disappointment and a general feeling of being completely lost.  By having a better understanding and recognising the important role that you have to play and by developing strategies to help you cope this will in turn help you support your loved one.

The disordered gambler may appear to show little or no regard for the family in the early stages of recovery so don’t expect to find someone full of remorse.  The perceived selfish ways in which they act are a direct consequence of the hold that the gambling has had on them. It is always worth remembering this because anger, resentment and arguments will most likely amplify the underlying shame and guilt they most likely feel and ultimately make them feel worse than they already do inside.  However, do not despair, in time this will slowly change but do not expect this to happen overnight.   They need to be selfish and focus on their recovery but as a family so do you.

There is not a ‘one-size fits all’ recovery programme and there is no straight forward simple solution.  What works for one person or family may not work for another but it is important that you are aware of all of the help, guidance and strategies that are available and see what works best for your situation.  There is no scientific proof that a gambling disorder cannot be treated so if something does not work for you first time then try a different approach but do keep trying.

It is crucial that during the very early stages of recovery you consider your own personal well-being and welfare.  Try not to make the gambling the only thing in your world. It's really important that you do not let it consume you so try not to become too isolated from family and friends. Whilst you may not want to share everything with everybody, do try to talk to people you feel you can trust. There may be some that will not truly appreciate the severity of a gambling disorder and the response you get may leave you feeling a little disappointed or despondent.  However, this will probably be due to a lack of understanding rather than a lack of empathy.  In some cases it's surprising what comes out of the woodwork when you start to talk as you soon realise lots of families have concerns or worries. Theirs may not be gambling related but they may also be going through their own set of problems.

Look for opportunities for normality - simple things like a day out, going out for a meal with friends or trying to get away for a few days. Try not to keep questioning the disordered gambler and trying to catch them out by being one step ahead. This will only add to your own stresses and anxieties. Make sure you put as many barriers in place; take things one day at a time and remember the old saying 'time is the greatest healer'.

12 Things to do - The Disordered Gambler

  •  Complete an extended piece of writing describing the journey the disordered gambler has been on.  It can help you rationalise what has actually happened; allow you to step back and be objective and to give you clarity on what your next steps should be.  It will also provide a consistent point of reference when speaking with banks, loan companies, gambling companies and the various support agencies that you may wish to contact.  It will also save you having to go through the same painful story time after time and will  ensure that you do not miss out important pieces of information.
  •  Complete a financial review – make a list of all debts and loans outstanding.  Be prepared for further debt to appear in the early stages.  Contact each company directly (you will need permission from your family member to talk on their behalf), be honest and explain the situation and try to arrange a payment plan that is affordable to the gambler.  Remember this is not your debt – you do not have to pay any money back from your savings.  Contact Step Change (UK's leading debt charity to get expert debt advice and fee-free debt management to help you tackle debt) for further advice.   
  • Take control of finances - open a bank account that has gambling blocks enabled (for example Monzo) and arrange shared access if possible. Monitor all transactions through online banking.  GDPR may put barriers in place but consider registering for ‘Power of Attorney’ should there be issues.  Only allow use of debit card (no cash), insist on receipts for everything (set up a WhatsApp group for ‘receipts’).  If you are using a bank with a high street presence contact them to ensure no over the counter transactions are allowed and take away all forms of ID so that no new accounts can be opened.  Set up a daily withdrawal limit of £1 (which is below the minimum of £10) to disable cash machine withdrawals.
  • Register with an online credit reference agency (for example Credit Monitor). This will show you all of the outstanding loans and accounts.  This will also allow you to monitor and keep track of their credit score and track any activity on the credit file such as applying for new loans.
  • Become ‘The Expert’ - visit the useful links page at www.gamfam.co.uk and do some research.  Have a better understanding of what a gambling addiction is and recognise that it is actually a mental disorder.  
  • Help and support - visit the GP – although disordered gambling is recognised as a mental illness some doctors may not be experts in this area.  Families can self-refer to the NHS gambling clinic. Contact Breakeven regarding gambling specific counselling for both the gambler and the family.  This is available in person and over the phone.
  • Find your local GamAnon meeting (this is purely for families/friends of those affected by gambling).  This will give you the opportunity to talk to people who have had similar experiences and who will not be judgemental in their approach.  Encourage the gambler to attend Gamblers Anonymous (GA) – they may not be ready immediately but it is advisable to still attend the family meeting to help you understand the importance of your role and to give you the opportunity to speak to people in the same situation.
  • Set up parental controls on all devices (visit www.gamfam.co,uk for advice on this) – register with Gamban and Gamstop.  Gamban places gambling block software on devices and Gamstop offers free self-exclsuion from UK licensed gambling sites.  All barriers should be monitored and checked regularly and never become complacent.
  • Ensure the disordered gambler self excludes from all high street betting/casino shops in the immediate vicinity and surrounding areas.  This is not completely foolproof and does rely on the integrity of staff in these premises.
  • Monitor the post being delivered to the home for letters from banks and loan companies etc.  Have an arrangement in place that all letters are opened together or by the family.
  • Encourage the disordered gambler to find other outlets to fill the void left by gambling. Try to promote a positive lifestyle by going to the gym or eating healthily.   



Thanks to Chris Gilham for supplying this information.  Chris can be contacted via Twitter @gillsy1002_