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How to Help Someone with a Gambling Addiction

Impulses are often hard to control, even more so for someone struggling with a gambling addiction. Reports state every five out of one hundred gamblers have an addiction to gambling. Even more frightening are the statistics that show 750,000 people between the ages of 14 and 21 are addicted to gambling.

If you know someone with a gambling addiction and you want to help them, it is important to understand all you can about gambling, so you can best help them overcome an addiction.

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Know the Different types of Gambling

When you think of gambling, you may picture a person going into a casino and spending their whole paychecks on the slot machines. While this is one example, there are many forms of gambling, all of which can lead to addiction.

Gambling can be betting on a football or other sports related game. It can start with a simple bet among friends and lead to connecting with a bookie who takes bets on many levels. Other types of gambling include playing the lottery, through scratch off cards to the major lotto.

Other types of gambling include card games, game machines, dice games and even spinning wheels. Poker and even bingo are forms of gambling very popular among gambling addicts and non-addicts.

So, why do some people become addicted to gambling and others do not.

Understand How a Person Becomes Addicted to Gambling

Gambling is an activity that produce a feeling of reward, causing dopamine to be released in the brain and body. Dopamine is a chemical that gives you a sense of satisfaction. It makes you feel good. With each activity you do that produces this good feeling, your brain wants to repeat that behavior, so it can continue releasing dopamine.

Many times, this means repeating behaviors, even negative ones, to reach a feeling of euphoria. Meaning, each time a person gambles and achieves the reward of winning, dopamine is released. They begin chasing this feeling. And because people lose at gambling more often than win, they continue to gamble to overcome the depression that sets in when a loss occurs.

Some people can control their impulses better than others. Some people have brains that produce more dopamine and have higher levels of the “happy chemicals” in their brains. These are the people that can typically avoid becoming addicted to gambling.

Learning how to recognize addictive gambling behaviors is important when trying to help someone.

Recognize Addictive Gambling Behaviors

There are specific symptoms that allude to a person having an addiction to gambling. For instance, if they are secretive about their gambling habits or gamble even when they do not have money, they could have an addiction.

Gambling addiction is like other addictions in that the person cannot stop their behaviors without experiencing some form of withdrawal. In addition, gambling addicts participate in risky behaviors to continue their addictions and even when they lose important people and things, they still cannot stop.

Having a gambling addiction may not mean they gamble every day. However, when they do gamble, their behaviors tend to focus on doing whatever they can to continue to gamble. Binge gambling can occur just like binge drinking or drug use.

If you are ready to help someone you think has a gambling addiction, know what stage of their addiction they are in, so you can match the help with their level of agreement.

Determine the Stage of Addiction

If you are ready to send someone to inpatient treatment for gambling addiction but they don’t think they even have a problem, treatment will most likely fail. It is important to meet the addict at the level in which they are on.

This means determining their stage of addiction.

Just like other addictions, gambling has phases. The winning phase is the first phase. This is where the gambler is having a lot of good luck and feeling the rewards of gambling. This stage can last from three to five years or longer and you may see the gambler showing a lot of confidence in themselves, thinking they can only win.

This is not true, of course, and eventually the second phase or losing stage, appears.

During the losing stage, the gambler tries to make up for his or her losses and participates in deceiving behaviors to continue gambling. They take more risks than before in order to make up for losses. This creates more losses and eventually leads to them feeling desperate.

In the desperation stage, someone can become obsessed with gambling. They may resort to extreme lying, financial difficulties, loss of relationships and anger over not winning. It is also in this stage the gambler may participate in illegal activities to continue their obsession.

The next stage is that of hopelessness, where the gambler is so depressed that he or she no longer cares what happens to them. Some may not even care if they live or die. This is often called rock bottom with other addictions.

The final stage is recovery. This is when the gambler can begin to reclaim the life they once knew and with the right treatment, they can overcome their addiction.

Seek Treatment

Treatment is available for gambling addicts. There are varying levels of treatment based on your personal situation and level of addiction. From inpatient treatment to intensive outpatient to weekly counseling, it is available.

Treatment should include yourself, your family and any friends who may be affected by the addiction. Treatment can last anywhere from six weeks to over a year. The more time you spend in treatment, the less likely you are to relapse.

As with anything, there may be ups and downs in your recovery journey from gambling addiction. Some days will be easier than others. This is another reason seeking treatment is important.

Attending group therapy or support groups for gambling addicts can help you make positive connections with others who are struggling also.  Peer support, along with treatment with a trained professional, provides a person with a treatment plan for success.


Chris Massman is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Agoura Hills, CA. She graduated Phillips Graduate Institute with a Master of Arts in Psychology in 2014 and received her Chemical Dependency Specialty in 2014. Today, she practices Congnitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals, couples, and families identify and overcome a variety of unique challenges.