We live in an addictive world – whether it’s addiction to working out, online shopping or scrolling through social media, there’s no shortage of pleasures that can give us thrills and leave us coming back for more.
Of course, taking a healthy interest in any hobby is by no means a bad thing, but like most things in life, it is safest in moderation. Unfortunately, one addiction that is on the rise in the UK is gambling.
In 2017, the number of “problem gamblers” grew to an astonishing 400,000, which has been blamed in part on gambling advertising. With household names like Ray Winstone endorsing in-app betting, it’s of little surprise that up to 2 million people in the UK have been deemed “at risk” of a gambling addiction.
However, despite the increased access to gambling with the advent of smartphones, studies have shown that only 4% of UK adults gamble online. What’s more interesting is the “at risk” gamblers – reports from the Problem Gambling Severity Index show that 35% of these people gamble online.
So how can we overcome this? If you think a loved one may be suffering from a gambling problem, there are several ways in which you can help.
Before tackling the problem, firstly you need to understand the difference between a healthy hobby and an addiction. Look out for the following signs if you’re concerned about a friend or loved one.
Taking over – you may notice a person start to talk about gambling more often. They may also make excuses not to take part in their regular activities in favour of gambling, which can be accompanied by lies or even trying to hide their playing habits.
Asking to borrow funds – if things have got particularly bad, you may find the person asking to borrow money to cover gambling debts. They may exhibit uncontrolled behaviour such as “chasing” to recoup their losses, which usually results in even further debt.
Gambling as an outlet – just like drugs or alcohol, problem gamblers can turn to gambling to “forget”. If they show withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have access to their “fix”, then it may be time to intervene.
Turning to crime – in the most extreme circumstances, problem gamblers may try to steal or defraud others to fund their addiction and overcome debts.
If you’re certain that your loved one fits into one or more of these categories, the first thing to do is not to react negatively, but try to understand it from their point of view. Try to sit down with them and have an honest conversation – ask them questions, let them talk and do not judge them.
Addictions can be all-consuming, and addicts may not be aware of the effects their behaviour is having on others. Tell them, gently, that you feel neglected and are concerned about the family finances. If you’re really concerned, consider separating bank accounts to protect household funds.
Your loved one may be feeling guilty, ashamed and remorseful, so it’s important to remind them that you are there for them on their path toward recovery. Thankfully, there are many avenues for getting help.
The aforementioned betting operators with celebrity advertising campaigns are keen to promote responsible gambling, explicitly telling players “when the fun stops, stop”, as well as including links to responsible gambling operators on their websites. You can also get help from the following organisations.
GamCare provides a telephone helpline, live chat and online forum. Their website also provides advice on problem gambling and offers a self-assessment tool for anybody who may be unsure of their addiction levels.
This features on the GamCare website – the confidential phone line is open from 8 am to midnight every day and does not appear on itemised bills.
While calls are recorded, records are deleted after 28 days, and the trained advisors will only take action if they believe yours or somebody else’s life is in danger. Their primary role, however, is to listen to your concerns and provide suggestions on how to help – either for players or for those concerned about a loved one.
Call 0808 8020 133.
You can choose how long you want this exclusion period to last, so you may consider suggesting to your loved one that they use this service, as this will ensure they still retain the feeling of “control”. Other resources are available on the GamStop website such as links to debt helplines and emotional support.
While you should show care and understanding, it’s important not to make things worse, for example by “bailing out” your loved one by offering to pay off their gambling debts.
Again, be careful with the language you use – do not give ultimatums, but instead, tell them that you are denying them funds for their own good. If you’ve taken control of their finances, do not give this up until you are 100% certain that they have control over their addiction.
Finally, do not blame yourself – for some, gambling can be as addictive as a drug, and in these situations, sufferers have little to no self-control. While you may consider it your responsibility to help this person, you must remember that you are the solution, not the problem.
Like any addiction, problem gambling is difficult to overcome, but it is achievable with small steps and gradual lifestyle changes. With patience, a good ear and the help of nationwide organisations, you and your loved ones can overcome these challenges and enjoy healthy hobbies in the future.
Katie Thompson is an NCTJ-trained journalist and freelance online gaming writer. She enjoys researching the iGaming industry and writing comprehensive guides on the history of gambling, beating the dealer and even how to get bingo dauber stains out of your favourite shirt.
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