When someone you care about is struggling with a gambling addiction, it’s challenging to figure out the best way to help them. You may wonder how to recognize if they are addicted to gambling and what you can do if they are.

At Feinberg, we understand that gambling addictions and recovery are difficult topics to discuss and navigate on your own. Our team is here to offer compassionate guidance every step of the way throughout gambling addiction intervention.

What is Gambling Addiction?

Gambling addiction, also known as compulsive gambling, is a process addiction or behavioral addiction. This is where you have the compulsion to repeatedly engage in a specific behavior or activity, despite damaging consequences. Gambling addiction is currently the only behavioral addiction recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).

Our experience helping people with compulsive gambling has shown us that the anticipation of gambling and the hope of a payoff are often the real focus, rather than the act of betting itself. If your loved one is a compulsive gambler, they will chase that feeling of anticipation, or rush of adrenaline, despite how much money they may lose.

You don’t have to have hit rock bottom to have a gambling disorder. Any gambling that disrupts someone’s life is considered problem gambling. It can start by mildly disrupting daily routines or putting strain on their relationships and lead to major financial difficulties and changes in their behavior. Compulsive gamblers cannot control the impulse to gamble, even if they know they cannot afford to lose. Gambling addictions can lead to devastating consequences that negatively affect the entire family, not just the individual.

Do I Need Help? Signs of Gambling Addiction

Recognizing the signs of addiction can help your loved one get support. However, family members must know that people with addictions usually try to hide their symptoms. It is not your fault if you have not recognized your loved one’s compulsive gambling behavior.

Signs include:

  • Being preoccupied with gambling, such as constantly planning how to get more money for gambling
  • Developing tolerance – needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to get the same ‘thrill’ or feelings of pleasure
  • Trying to control, cut back, or stop gambling but not managing
  • Using gambling to cope with problems or feelings such as anxiety, depression, or guilt
  • Losing interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Secretive behavior, such as lying to loved ones about the extent of gambling
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and relationship problems
  • Decreased performance at school or work
  • Asking for or stealing money to gamble or pay off debts due to gambling
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Regular unexplained physical issues such as headaches and stomach problems
  • Not taking care of appearance and self-care
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Gambling-related harm
  • Here are some questions to ask yourself if you think you might have an addiction:
  • Do you chase losses?
  • Has your gambling caused problems in your life, e.g., with your health or relationships?
  • Do you bet more than you have?
  • Are you betting more money or more frequently than you used to to get the same high?
  • Are you experiencing financial problems due to excessive gambling?

How Can Intervention Help With a Gambling Addiction?

We know how hard it can be for someone to accept that they have an addiction, and getting through the barrier of denial is often very difficult for the individual’s loved ones. Some stigmas surround admitting to an addiction, such as misconceptions that it is a moral failing or a sign of weakness, but addiction is an illness and not the fault of the person suffering.

Our person-centered interventions are designed to interrupt a way of life that has become impossible to sustain. The goal is to help a loved one accept that they need support. Intervention is a powerful tool when beginning to break the grip of addiction because it leaves the person of concern in no doubt that they are deeply loved and their loved ones do not blame them for their condition. With this foundation of empathy and understanding, it is easier to accept that it is time to undergo treatment, a course of action the loved ones will fully support.

What Happens During a Gambling Intervention?

The precise nature of the intervention can vary depending on the specific case. Typically, our formal interventions include time to plan with the family before any meeting occurs with the person of concern.

Our intervention team will conduct a family assessment, building a holistic picture of the life and background of the person of concern based on the input of their loved ones. Using our expert knowledge, Feinberg will then recommend a customized care plan. This plan will be offered to the person of concern in the intervention meeting, which the intervention team will oversee.

Your Feinberg intervention team will also help the participating family members to write intervention letters which will be read to the person of concern at the meeting. These are written from a place of love and deep concern, making clear to the individual how much harm is being done by their gambling addiction and urging them to accept treatment.

The person of concern may raise objections, and answers to these objections will be planned out in advance. If need be, bottom-line statements can be made outlining the changes that will occur for the person of concern if they choose to refuse the help that is being offered. If they accept help, Feinberg arranges same-day transit.

How Can I Help a Loved One With a Gambling Addiction?

It can be extremely difficult to recognize a loved one’s addiction alone, and it’s never too late to seek help. Getting advice or input from a mental health professional is a major step toward helping your loved one overcome problem gambling.

Many resources and treatment options are available if you’re concerned about a loved one’s gambling problem. Treatment for compulsive gambling varies based on a person’s needs, and at Feinberg, we are expertly placed to guide you through the best treatment options.

By carefully coordinating the treatment and recovery process, we help individuals focus on building emotional relationships with themselves. We also emphasize the importance of developing a support system they can confide in and trust. Additionally, we work closely with families to provide them with emotional and mental health support. We also provide family coaching and take the pressure off by case-managing the recovery journey of their loved ones and family members.

Above all, remember that recovery must be taken one step at a time. If a setback occurs throughout the process, our team is here to help your family get back on the path of recovery.

How Do You Break the Gambling Cycle?

The best way to break the gambling cycle is to replace unhealthy habits with healthy ones. For example, taking up activities such as exercise, healthy eating, going on hikes, and even going to the cinema. An individual may replace betting on sports with watching them, though this could also trigger a relapse, so it is important to identify behavioral triggers first.

How Can Gambling Addiction Be Treated?

Gambling addiction is similar to other addictions in the way that it affects the reward systems of the brain. Many therapies and support groups that work with substance addictions also work with gambling. In some cases, entering into inpatient or residential treatment is recommended if their gambling addiction has progressed to this point.

Suppose your loved one has a mental health condition such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, or is neurodivergent. In that case, it is important that they receive support from a mental health professional. Feinberg can help get an accurate diagnosis for any co-occurring mental health conditions and integrate that treatment into our plan.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps individuals to recognize and replace unhealthy thoughts and behaviors with new healthy ones. They will learn how to recognize gambling triggers and how to manage them. It can also help by developing problem-solving skills so that they can learn how to manage relapse triggers. Your loved one may also benefit from trauma, family, and group therapy. Self-help groups such as Gamblers Anonymous can also help in recovery.

What Are the Risk Factors for Gambling Addiction?

While anyone can develop gambling disorders, some factors increase your risk. These include:

  • Mental health disorders and neurodiversity
  • Stress in your life, such as at home, work, or in your relationships
  • Family history of addiction
  • Trauma such as physical or sexual abuse

Relapse Prevention

Understanding relapse triggers is one of the most important things to work on during recovery. These triggers could be such things as advertisements on TV or suggestive emails. Working with a coach on understanding and planning relapse triggers is very helpful. Triggers are very common in recovery, and managing them is best accomplished with a strong recovery plan and team.

Feinberg: Your Guide on the Road to Wellness

If you are concerned about a compulsive gambler, we are here to help you at Feinberg Consulting. We will formulate an individualized treatment and recovery plan based on their specific situation and needs. We understand that everyone’s gambling problem is different, so we believe that an individualized plan gives the best chance of long-term recovery.

We have working relationships with a large network of treatment facilities and will pair your loved one with the best professionals to carry out the treatment plan that we will develop together. We ensure that the individual struggling with the addiction and their family members receive the tools, education, knowledge, and ongoing support necessary to maintain a meaningful life of healing and recovery.

Gambling Addiction FAQ

How Does Gambling Addiction Impact Relationships?

An addiction to gambling can greatly impact relationships as it leads to behavioral changes. Your loved one may lie about what they are doing and spend the household money gambling. This can put both an emotional and financial strain on the relationship. When a partner has an addiction, this often makes relationships difficult and can even cause them to break down.

Is Gambling a Mental Illness?

Gambling in itself is not a mental illness. While it can make symptoms of mental illness worse, it is not defined as such. Many people gamble for entertainment and do not become addicted. Gambling addiction is a brain disease that causes you to compulsively seek out and take part in gambling.

What are the 3 Types of Gamblers?

There are three main types of gamblers:

  • Professional gamblers only gamble on games that require skill and have full control over how they gamble
  • Social gamblers gamble as a recreational activity and have full control over their gambling
  • Problem gamblers continue gambling despite negative consequences. Anyone who is addicted to gambling is a problem gambler

How Often Do Gamblers Relapse?

Relapsing is when you gamble again after choosing to stop. Most people who are addicted to gambling and choose to stop will relapse at least once before they stop entirely. There is no set number of times that someone who is addicted to gambling will relapse. With the right treatment suited to your individual needs, the chances of relapsing decrease.

How Does Online Gambling Contribute to Gambling Addiction?

Online gambling makes gambling much more accessible than it has been in the past. This increases the risk of developing a gambling disorder as a person can do it from anywhere. It is, therefore, easier for it to get out of control.

What Are the Most Common Triggers for Gambling Addiction?

Stress is a big contributor to developing an addiction to gambling. If you use gambling to ease symptoms of stress or mental health problems, it is possible that you get to a point where you feel you need it to cope because it leads to strong feelings of ease and pleasure.

What Are Some Common Misconceptions About Gambling Addiction?

Some common misconceptions of an addiction to gambling include:

  • People who are addicted to gambling are weak-willed
  • People who are addicted to gambling do it every day
  • If you are rich, you cannot have a gambling problem
  • It is your fault if you or a loved one has developed an addiction