How To Know if Someone Is a Problem Gambler

min read
A traditional slot machine featuring the word “STOP”.
BetMGM Feb 17, 2023, 12:55 PM

Playing online casino games is incredibly convenient. But this convenience can be bad if you don’t exercise self-control. Problem gambling can destroy lives and families. At BetMGM, we’re dedicated to preventing problem gambling. Even more, we want to empower players to help their own friends if they suspect their gambling has become an addiction. Read on to see what signs to look out for and how to help someone with a gambling addiction. 

What is problem gambling?

What’s the difference between someone who enjoys playing online and gambling and someone with an addiction? Gambling addiction, that is, compulsive or problem gambling, is when a player has an uncontrollable urge to gamble or bet despite the negative impact the habit may have on their life. Budgets, relationships and well-being won’t be respected. Gambling addiction is a chronic disorder. It can happen to anyone and it’s not always related to social standing, wealth, age or character flaws and weaknesses. Even though most people can play at a casino online without becoming addicted, others may gamble excessively and deplete their financial resources. Once gambling habits have reached this point, gambling can lead to depression, anxiety and feelings of isolation, guilt, anger, frustration and shame. 

The science of problem gambling

Let’s look at what addiction science can teach us about problem gambling. Gambling stimulates the brain’s reward system or dopamine neurotransmitters in the same way that drugs and alcohol do. Like people with substance addiction, problem gamblers develop tolerance in their betting and need games with higher risks and stakes to reach the same “high” they felt before. The addiction can result in the same cravings, anxiety, irritability, depression and insomnia linked to substance abuse. 

However, no matter how addicted your loved ones may be, problem gambling is treatable. Even though the person may want to self-isolate because of their shame and depression, drawing close to them and supporting them is the first step to recovery. 

Causes of gambling addiction

There are many possible causes of addiction. While other people may play games like live dealer blackjack or slots for the thrill and excitement, others turn to these games to cope with stress at home and work or relieve emotional turmoil. But there is a vicious cycle at work here. As these problems worsen – ironically, partly because of their gambling – their dependence on gambling also increases. While some players may have a history of substance abuse and addiction, others use gambling to help them cope with anxiety, depression or other mental illnesses. Experts also believe that people who suffer from gambling addiction have a genetic predisposition for reward-seeking behavior and tend to be impulsive or competitive in their everyday lives. 

Signs and symptoms of problem gambling

Look for the following signs to see if you or a loved one may have a gambling problem. What type of casino gamer are you? The following signs can also help you spot red flags in your own gambling. 

  • Frequently exceeding your gambling budget
  • Gambling takes priority over work
  • Gambling takes priority over your personal relationships
  • Spending more time playing gambling games like online slot machines than you did before
  • Feeling the need to increase the amount of money you gamble with
  • Not being able to take breaks from gambling
  • Feeling irritable and restless when you can’t gamble
  • Gambling to improve emotions of hopelessness and anxiety
  • Gambling to escape life problems and conflicts
  • Chasing losses and gambling to get the money you lost
  • Hiding your gambling activity and lying to friends and family
  • Stealing or committing fraud to support your gambling habit
  • Taking loans from banks and friends in order to gamble

How to help someone with a gambling addiction

The first step to helping someone with a gambling addiction is deciding to support them on their journey to recovery. Here are the steps to take to help a problem gambler.

Step 1: Prepare for a discussion with them.

For this initial step, read articles from reputable sources to learn more about problem gambling. You can also talk to addiction professionals so they can help you prepare for the confrontation with your friend or loved one. Visit the BetMGM and GameSense Responsible Gambling page for resources for family and friends. 

Step 2: Talk to your friend about their addiction.

It’s time to tell your friend how their gambling habits affect them and others around them. Don’t be discouraged if your friend becomes defensive or angry – this is normal. Be careful not to judge them, lecture them, beg them or criticize them. Still, be frank and straightforward. Feel free to pause the conversation until another time if your emotions take over. Let them know you are there for them and that there is help available. 

Step 3: Help your friend manage their finances and lives.

Once your friend has admitted they have a problem, they are ready for treatment. Only when both of you are aware of the damage can you start with damage control. Talk to your friend about taking the following measures to help them start their journey of recovery:

  • Confess if they’ve depleted savings or resorted to theft to support their addiction
  • Turn their finances and accounts over to a trusted friend or family member and stop all credit cards until further notice
  • Close or pause all online gambling accounts and delete online gambling apps from their phone 
  • Make an appointment with a debt counselor if they’ve incurred debt 
  • Stop communication with friends who gamble online or in person 
  • Stay away from any locations that offer gambling and betting 
  • Join clubs and take up new and old hobbies to keep them distracted in anxious moments
  • Start a challenge, such as preparing for a marathon, to replace the dopamine they received from gambling and betting 
  • Start being intentional about stress management with tools such as breathwork, yoga and meditation. 

Step 4: Seek professional help.

With your help, your friend will become empowered to reach out and ask for help from a professional. Gambling treatment is similar to the treatment of other addictions. This will include education, support groups and counseling. It may also lead to professionals diagnosing other underlying issues like depression, anxiety, ADHD, BPD or others, which will enable them to prescribe treatment plans. Encourage your friend to join a Twelve Step Program such as Gamblers Anonymous to meet others on the road to recovery. 

Step 5: Be part of the solution and not the problem

Don’t be an enabler. You can simultaneously love and support your friend while allowing them to take responsibility for their problem. Don’t protect them from the consequences of their behavior, do things such as pay their bills or lend them money. Don’t justify their behavior or let them assign blame to anyone else. This may be challenging but it gives them more motivation to change. 

It’s easy to lose control of your gambling if the right measures aren’t in place. When you play casino table games and slots, set time and money limits to remind you to stop. Prioritize your relationships and don’t self-isolate to focus on gambling. As easy as it is to keep spinning an online slot, don’t try to win your money back. Once it’s time to stop, don’t make any excuses. 

Keep the fun in gambling with BetMGM

BetMGM is a gambler’s paradise. However, we pair our exciting catalog with an emphasis on the importance of responsible gambling. When you register, we want to help you become a responsible gambler. BetMGM has partnered with GameSense to teach players how to gamble responsibly. If you feel you or a loved one has a gambling problem, call 1-800-GAMBLER.

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.