What do I say to someone whose gambling is causing a problem?

Problem gambling is not an easy issue to raise. What a problem gambler needs to understand is how their actions are affecting you. It may too be an opportunity for you to demonstrate the support you are able to offer in overcoming the problem.

It is best not to make assumptions. Try to discuss only what you have seen. Encourage the person to see the consequences of their behaviour and its effect on you. Take time to think about what you want to say. It might help to write down your feelings.

Speaking to a qualified counsellor or even calling one of the problem gambling helplines might be able to assist you plan your approach in advance.

Please click here for a selection of service providers.

You too may need help to cope with the difficulties you are experiencing. You might just need to speak to someone to get some advice about what your choices are or what services are available to you or the person affected. Whatever the reason, there is support available for you too. Call The National Helpline and one of their qualified counsellors will be available to discuss it with you.

You can contact the National Helpline at any of these numbers;

  • UK: 02890 392547,
  • NI: 08000 886 725, or
  • ROI: 1800 936 725

The Dunlewey centre has qualified counsellors in almost every county in Ireland. After initial phone counselling, the Dunlewey center can refer persons for free face to face counselling sessions with one of their agents. These counselling sessions are available for persons affected by problem gambling directly, or for family members affected by problem gambling.

What can I do to help me help them?

1. Look after yourself

Take time to get support for you. This might be family or friends, a Dunlewey counsellor or a support group. Occasionally, someone with a gambling problem will ask someone close to swear to secrecy. Secrecy does not allow you to get support and it can help someone avoid responsibility for his or her actions, allowing the gambling to continue unchallenged. If you feel you can’t talk to people close to you, seek support. Limit the financial impact that gambling has on you. If you can, separate your bank accounts and protect your own money.

2. Pace yourself

We all want to help the people we care about when they are in difficulty. But remember, the motivation and willingness to change behaviour comes at different times. You may be ready now, but the person who you are trying to help may not be ready. It won’t help to rush them or try to push them to change. Wait in the wings until they are ready and then offer to help them choose.

3. Don’t do everything

The first steps to seeking help can be daunting and require a ready state of mind. But they are also often the simplest and easiest. If you step in and take these steps for a gambler, it may be denying the person a chance to express their readiness to act in a way that gives them a sense of achievement. Remember, they need to be motivated to change.

4. I’m feeling really down about the whole thing, what should I do?

Gambling, and the loss of trust it often brings, can put an enormous strain on a relationship. If you find that you feel overwhelmed or are losing hope, it is important to seek professional help. Share your concerns with your GP, a relationship counsellor, or with a qualified counsellor. They can help you through this difficult time.


Try and steer clear of ultimatums. Ultimatums are rarely effective and they can increase the sense of guilt and shame a person feels about their behaviour.

Making ultimatums may encourage greater secrecy and rarely prepares someone for change.

Generally ultimatums are made out of utter frustration, desperation and anger. When everything else seems to fail in making our loved one realise the damage they are causing, we believe that if we can force an outcome serious enough, that our loved one will suddenly, finally be compelled to change. You feel you need to take definite and immediate action.

An ultimatum may work temporarily, but then the addiction overcomes their desire to obey your ultimatum. It always returns, no matter how forcefully you try to push it away, no matter what tactics you use. Your threat has made no difference.

You should always think carefully before doing anything that enables the gambler to continue to gamble. Lending money or lying about their gambling helps problem gamblers avoid the consequences of their actions. They should take responsibility for their own behaviour.

Speaking to a qualified counsellor or even calling one of the problem gambling helplines might be able to assist you plan your approach in advance. They will have come across this situation many times before and can help you decide on the best path for you.