What is gambling addiction and problem gambling?
Gambling problems can happen to anyone from any walk of life. Your gambling can go from a fun, harmless diversion to an unhealthy obsession with potentially serious consequences. Whether you bet on sport, scratch cards, roulette, poker, or slot machines in a casino, at the track, or online, a gambling problem can put a huge strain on your relationships, interfere with work, and lead to major financial problems. You may even do things you never thought you would, like running up huge debts or even stealing money to gamble.
Gambling addiction also known as pathological gambling, compulsive gambling or gambling disorder is an impulse-control disorder. When you’re a compulsive gambler, even when it has negative consequences for you or your loved ones, you cannot control the impulse to gamble. You’ll gamble no matter whether you’re up or down, broke or flush, and you’ll continue to gamble regardless of the consequences even when you know that the odds are against you or you can’t afford to lose.
Of course, you can also have a gambling problem without being totally out of control. Problem gambling is any gambling behaviour that disrupts or interferes with your life. You have a gambling problem if you become preoccupied with gambling, spend a high amount of time and money on it, chasing losses, or continue to gamble despite the serious consequences it has on your life.
A gambling addiction or problem is commonly associated with other behaviour or mood disorders. Many problem gamblers also suffer with substance abuse issues, unmanaged ADHD, stress, depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. To be able to overcome your gambling problems, you’ll need to address these issues and any other underlying causes as well.
Although it may feel like you’re powerless to stop gambling, there are lots of ways that you can overcome the problem, repair your relationships and finances, and finally regain control of your life.
Myth: You have to gamble every day to be a problem gambler.
Fact: A problem gambler may gamble frequently or infrequently. Gambling is a problem if it causes problems.
Myth: Problem gambling is not really a problem if the gambler can afford it.
Fact: Problems caused by excessive gambling are not just financial. Too much time spent on gambling can also lead to relationship and legal problems, job loss, mental health problems including depression and anxiety, and even suicide.
Myth: Having a gambling problem is just a case of being weak-willed, irresponsible, or unintelligent.
Fact: Gambling problems affect people of all levels of intelligence and all backgrounds. Previously responsible and strong-willed people are just as likely to develop a gambling problem as anyone else.
Myth: Partners of problem gamblers often drive their loved ones to gamble.
Fact: Problem gamblers often try to rationalise their behaviours. Blaming others is one way to avoid taking responsibility for their actions, including what is needed to overcome the problem.
Myth: If a problem gambler builds up a debt, you should help them take care of it.
Fact: Quick fix solutions may appear to be the right thing to do. However, bailing the gambler out of debt may actually make matters worse by enabling their gambling problems to continue.
Gambling addiction is sometimes referred to as a “hidden illness” because there are no obvious physical signs or symptoms like there are in drug or alcohol addiction. Problem gamblers also typically deny or minimise the problem—even to themselves. However, you may have a gambling problem if you:
Feel the need to be secretive about your gambling. You might gamble in secret or lie about how much you are gambling, feel others won’t understand or that you might surprise them with a big win.
Have trouble controlling your gambling. Once you start gambling, can you walk away? Or are you compelled to gamble until you’ve spent your last pound, upping your bets in a bid to win lost money back?
Gamble even when you don’t have the money. You may gamble until you’ve spent your last pound, and then move on to money you don’t have—money to pay bills, credit cards, or things for your children. You may feel pushed to borrow, sell, or even steal things for gambling money.
Have family and friends worried about you. Denial keeps problem gambling going. If friends and family are worried, listen to them carefully. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help. Many older gamblers are reluctant to reach out to their adult children if they’ve gambled away their inheritance, but it’s never too late to make changes for the better.
What can I do to help myself and my gambling?
The first and biggest step to overcoming a gambling addiction is coming to the realisation that you have a problem. It takes a great deal of strength and courage to own up to this, especially if you have lost a lot of money and strained or broken relationships along the way. Don’t despair, and don’t try to go it alone. Lots of other people have been in your position and have been able to break the habit and rebuild their lives. You can, too.
Do you gamble when you’re lonely or bored? Or after a stressful day at work or following an argument with your partner? Gambling may be a way to self-soothe unpleasant emotions, unwind, or socialise. But there are healthier and more effective ways of managing your moods and relieving boredom, such as exercising, spending time with friends who don’t gamble, taking up new hobbies, or practicing relaxation techniques.
It’s tough to battle any addiction without support, so reach out to friends and family. If your support network is limited, there are ways to make new friends without relying on visiting casinos or gambling online. Try reaching out to colleagues at work, joining a sports team or book club, enrolling in an education class, or volunteering for a good cause.
Gamblers Anonymous, for example, is a twelve-step recovery program patterned after Alcoholics Anonymous. A key part of the program is finding a sponsor, a former gambler who has experience remaining free from addiction and can provide you invaluable guidance and support.
Depression, stress, substance abuse, or anxiety can all trigger gambling problems and be made worse by compulsive gambling. Even when gambling is no longer a part of your life, these problems will still remain, so it’s important to address them.
For many problem gamblers, it’s not quitting gambling that’s the biggest challenge, but rather staying in recovery making a permanent commitment to stay away from gambling. The Internet has made gambling far more accessible and, therefore, harder for recovering addicts to avoid relapse. Online casinos and bookmakers are open all day, every day for anyone with a smartphone or access to a computer. But maintaining recovery from gambling addiction or problem gambling is still possible if you surround yourself with people to whom you’re accountable, avoid tempting environments and websites, give up control of your finances to a family member or friend (at least at first), and find healthier activities to replace gambling in your life.
Making healthier choices
One way to stop gambling is to remove the elements necessary for gambling to occur in your life and replace them with healthier choices. The four elements needed for gambling to continue are:
A decision: For gambling to happen, you need to make the decision to gamble. If you have an urge: stop what you are doing and call someone, think about the consequences to your actions, tell yourself to stop thinking about gambling, and find something else to do immediately.
Money: Gambling cannot occur without money. Get rid of your credit cards, let someone else be in charge of your money, have the bank make automatic payments for you, close online betting accounts, and keep only a limited amount of cash on you in person.
Time: Even online gambling cannot occur if you don’t have the time. Schedule enjoyable time for yourself that has nothing to do with gambling. If you’re gambling on your smartphone, find other ways to fill the quiet moments during your day.
A game: Without a game or activity to bet on there is no opportunity to gamble. Don’t put yourself in tempting environments. Tell gambling establishments you frequent that you have a gambling problem and ask them to restrict you from entering. Remove gambling apps and block gambling sites on your smartphone and computer.
Feeling the urge to gamble is normal, but as you build healthier choices and build a strong support network, resisting cravings will become easier. When a gambling craving strikes:
Avoid isolation. Call a trusted family member, meet a friend for coffee, or go to a support group meeting.
Postpone gambling. Tell yourself that you’ll wait five minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour. As you wait, the urge to gamble may pass or become weak enough to resist.
Visualise what will happen if you give in to the urge to gamble. Think about how you’ll feel after all your money is gone and you’ve disappointed yourself, your family and friends again.
Distract yourself with another activity, such as going to the gym or watching a movie.
Coping with lapses
If you can’t resist the gambling craving, don’t be too hard on yourself or use it as an excuse to give up. Overcoming a gambling addiction is a tough process. You may slip from time to time; the important thing is to learn from your mistakes and continue working towards recovery.
Overcoming a gambling problem is never easy and seeking professional treatment and support doesn’t mean that you’re weak or can’t handle your problems. It is important to remember that every gambler is unique so you need a recovery program tailored specifically to your needs and situation. Talk to your GP about different treatment options, including:
Inpatient or residential treatment and rehabilitation programs. These are aimed at those with severe gambling addiction who are unable to avoid gambling without round-the-clock support.
Treatment for underlying conditions contributing to your compulsive gambling, including substance abuse or mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, OCD, or ADHD. This could include therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Problem gambling can sometimes be a symptom of bipolar disorder, so your GP or therapist may need to rule this out before making a diagnosis.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT for gambling addiction focuses on changing unhealthy gambling behaviours and thoughts, such as rationalisations and false beliefs. It can also teach you how to fight gambling urges and solve financial, work, and relationship problems caused by problem gambling. Therapy can provide you with the tools for coping with your addiction that will last a lifetime.
Family therapy and marriage, career, and credit counselling. These can help you work through the specific issues that have emerged through your problem gambling and help you to lay the foundations for repairing your relationships and finances.
I’m concerned about someone else and their debt/gambling habits
If someone you care about has a gambling problem, you are likely to have many conflicting emotions. You may have spent a lot of time and energy trying to stop them gambling or having to cover for them. But, at the same time, you might be angry with them for gambling again and exhausted at trying to keep up appearances to others. They may have borrowed or stolen money even with no way to pay it back. They may have sold family possessions or run up huge debts on joint credit cards.
Whilst compulsive and problem gamblers will need the help of their family and friends to assist them in overcoming gambling addiction, the decision to quit must be theirs. As difficult as it is to see the devastating effects and as much as you may want to, you cannot make someone stop gambling. However, you can encourage them to seek help, support them in their efforts, protect yourself, and take any talk of suicide seriously.
Start by helping yourself. You have a right to protect yourself emotionally and financially. Don’t blame yourself for the gambler’s problems or let his or her addiction take over your life. Ignoring your own needs can lead to massive amounts of pressure and stress which may even cause a breakdown for you.
Don’t do it alone. It can feel rather overwhelming coping with a loved one’s gambling addiction that it may seem easier to rationalise their requests “this one last time.” On the other hand, you may feel ashamed and feel like you’re the only one who has problems like this. Reaching out for support will allow you to realise that many families have struggled with this problem.
Set boundaries in managing money. Consider taking over the family finances to ensure the gambler stays accountable, preventing relapse. But, this does not mean you are responsible for micromanaging the problem gambler’s impulses to gamble. Your first responsibilities are to ensure that your own finances and credit are not at risk.
Consider how you will handle requests for money. A lot of the time, problem gamblers become very good at asking for money, either directly or indirectly. Techniques that they may use include: pleading, manipulation, or even threats to get it. To ensure that you are not enabling your loved one’s gambling addiction, it takes a lot of time and practice.
Talk to your family member, when you’re calm and not stressed or angry, about their gambling problem and the consequences that it brings.
Look for support. Self-help groups for families of problem gamblers can introduce you to people who’ve also faced similar obstacles.
Explain to your loved one that you’re seeking help because of how their gambling affects you and your family.
If it’s you partner, talk to your children about their parent’s problem gambling.
Take over management of your family finances and carefully monitor bank and credit card statements.
Encourage and support your loved one during treatment of their gambling problem, even though it may be a long process peppered with setbacks.
Lose your temper, lecture, or issue threats and ultimatums that you’re unable to follow through on.
Overlook your partner’s positive qualities.
Prevent your partner from participating in family life and activities.
Expect your partner’s recovery from problem gambling to be smooth or easy. Even when their gambling stops, other underlying problems may surface.
Bail your partner out of debt or enable their gambling in any way.
Cover-up or deny your partner’s problem to yourself or others.
Find local gambling support around Doncaster
For support without a referral, Gamblers Anonymous meet every Tuesday from 7-9pm at
- The Wellness Centre: 45 Montrose Avenue, Intake, Doncaster, DN2 6PL
Tel: 0808 8020 133 (8am-midnight, seven days a week) to arrange a referral to a local counselling session.
Local counselling sessions are held at three locations across Doncaster:
- Bentley Community Library: Chapel Street, Bentley, Doncaster, DN5 0DE
- Open Minds: 28 Christchurch Road, Doncaster, DN1 2QL
- Counselling Room: 1st Avenue, Finningley, Doncaster, DN9 3GG
The NHS Northern Gambling Service is a regional service covering the Yorkshire & Humber area, with a mixture of face to face and remote appointments.
We see people with gambling problems, as well as those experiencing other difficulties such as mental health problems and suicidality. We also have a service for ‘affected others’ i.e. loved ones who are experiencing distress as a result of someone else’s gambling behaviour.
The workforce is made up of specialist addiction psychologists and therapists, as well as lived experience. Services that are likely to come across people with harmful gambling include debt services, primary care, mental health services, IAPT services, crisis services, drug and alcohol services, housing and homeless services, major employers, sports clubs, and the criminal justice system. The service accepts direct self-referrals, as well as professional referrals.
National support organisations
See what national support is available for gambling.
The National Online Self-Exclusion Scheme
GAMSTOP is a free service that lets individuals block themselves from all UK licensed gambling sites for a period of their choosing (6 months, 1 year, 5 years).
Once registered you will be prevented from using gambling websites and apps.
Tel: 0800 138 7777
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Online free resources for advice and guides to help improve your finances, tools and calculators to help keep track and plan ahead and support over the phone and online. Phone support available Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm.
Tel: 0808 808 4000
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Independent charity dedicated to providing free debt advice by phone and online to people across the UK. Expert debt advisers who are supportive and trained to a high standard. Committed to providing free, impartial and confidential debt advice.
Phone support available Monday to Friday 9am–8pm, Saturday 9:30am–1pm.