Want to help someone with a gambling problem but not sure what to do? It can help to try and understand how they are feeling and what stage of change they are in.
Understanding them (and yourself)
Trying to understand what a person is going through can help you to communicate with them more effectively.
If someone feels they are understood, they are more likely to talk openly and honestly, which will allow you to develop and negotiate a plan together.
The person who gambles may experience:
Shame, guilt and remorse - Which can be compounded by an added sense of guilt caused by an awareness of their behaviour's impact on others.
Experiencing these emotions can be overwhelming, which may not allow them to think clearly about their actions. Often these distressing thoughts can lead to ongoing gambling.
Desperation to try and recoup money that was lost can lead the gambler to behave in ways that appear to be "out of character" (See 'Signs of a gambling problem' for more information). New behaviours can be a shock for family and friends.
As a result you may feel:
Angry, hurt and betrayed. It can be difficult dealing with these emotions while trying to understand the person whose behaviour has contributed to you feeling this way.
It is normal to experience these emotions. By finding ways to help the problem gambler and to help yourself, you can minimise the impact that gambling has on you.
Talk with one of our online gambling counsellors for help in managing these feelings.
Stages of change
When someone starts to change their gambling behaviour, there are often different stages that they move through. These include:
- No problem – If they are in this stage the positives of gambling outweigh the negatives to the gambler. They enjoy gambling and don't see it as a problem.
- Thinking about it - People at this stage feel ambivalent about their gambling. Often they enjoy it, even though they know that it costs time and money. If they are in this stage they might be thinking about making a change.
- Getting ready - People in this stage feel ready to control or stop their gambling and have made the decision to do something about it. Additionally, they have scheduled a time in the very near future in which to start making changes.
- Taking action – They have begun doing the work on changing their gambling. People in this stage say things like - "I am doing something to change my behaviour". They should be getting together a package of strategies that they can use to help them change their behaviour. (Support is important for the gambler at this time as they may be experiencing different emotions as they reflect on the consequences of their gambling.)
- Maintaining change - This stage can be hard. It is when people have identified all the things they need to do to change their behaviour and they have started to put these things into practice. What they need now is practice, practice and more practice. Maintenance is the time to turn new behaviours into a habit.
- Slips and falls – they may have a slip up and start gambling again, it is a common part of the process of change. A lapse or slip up can be a good way of finding out how to adjust the plan to stay on track.
Understanding these stages of change can help you decide the best way to respond and the most appropriate type of support to provide.
For example, you may be ready for your friend or family member to start making changes, while they may still be thinking about it, and are not ready or sure that they want to change at all.
Accepting and working within the stage of change that the other person is in is absolutely crucial to helping someone with a gambling problem. You should try not to push someone into a stage of change they are not ready for.
Avoid rewarding the gambling behaviour
Giving or lending money to someone who gambles can be a difficult decision you may have to face.
Providing or loaning money may reinforce or reward gambling behaviour which may contribute to the gambling behaviour continuing.
Instead, consider setting up a system that rewards positive behaviour and deters negative behaviour.
For example, you might consider not lending money if they continue to gamble, however, if they cut back or stop gambling you might offer to conditionally help to pay off a bill.
Keep in mind that when the gambler has paid all their debts, this can be a time when they are vulnerable to relapse. For example some gamblers may begin convincing themselves that once the debts are paid off a small gamble may be acceptable.
If you would like more information on how you can help a problem gambler, you can: