How Do I Know If I've Got A Gambling Problem

Gambling is often described as ‘the hidden addiction’. Unlike substance misuse or sex addiction, it can be much easier to hide the signs of problem gambling from other people. This is particularly true now online gambling is so widely accessible and popular.

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  3. How Do You Know If You've Got A Gambling Problem

But the effects of gambling addiction on a relationship can be devastating. It can destroy the sense of trust between partners often as a consequence of the secrecy or lies surrounding the addiction as much as the addiction itself. It can also ruin families financially.

According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, problem gambling affects more than 2 percent of Americans. If you have a gambling addiction, you may feel an uncontrollable urge to buy. However, problem gambling is a serious illness, just like other substance-abuse addictions. It is important to keep in mind that once the addictive process has been established, the individual likely has little control over their gambling. In fact, it is likely that their gambling behavior has taken control of their life. Talk to them about their problem. If you want to help a compulsive gambler, you may need to discuss the problem. This may be when you start to see a pattern of behavior leading to compulsive gambling or after the person has gotten into trouble due to their gambling. Gambling can stimulate the brain's reward system much like drugs or alcohol can, leading to addiction. If you have a problem with compulsive gambling, you may continually chase bets that lead to losses, hide your behavior, deplete savings, accumulate debt, or even resort to theft or fraud to support your addiction.

It’s estimated there are around 450,000 problems gamblers in the UK. And anecdotal evidence suggests that every problem gambler impacts 5 to 12 other people.

How Do I Know If I've Got A Gambling Problem Even

What are the signs your partner is a gambler?

Many people whose partners have gambling addictions often report initially thinking their partner was having an affair as the signs are so similar. They include:

  • Spending lots of time away. Do they often spend a lot of time away from the house and are vague about why? Some problem gamblers also get up very early in order to play before their partner or family are awake.
  • Secretive around finances. Does your partner become cagey or defensive on the topic of money? Have they taken steps to conceal bank statements?
  • Money going out of account without explanation. Obviously, it’s not always possible to hide it if you are spending large amounts of cash. Have you noticed unexplained deductions from your accounts?
  • Secretive around internet use. Most gambling addictions are carried out online. Does your partner habitually delete their internet history or are they vague and evasive if questioned on their use of the internet?
  • Emotional highs and lows. Do they seem extremely excitable and positive some times but then very low, upset or even angry with others?
  • A change in behavior over time. You may feel like your partner’s behavior has changed gradually — getting more and more difficult or secretive in increments. This is usually how addictions begin: with things starting off more subtly, before spinning further out of control.

How does gambling affect relationships?

On a number of levels:

  • The emotional impact. Very often, the partner of someone with a gambling addiction will feel betrayed upon finding out. There can often be a sense of feeling like they ‘aren’t enough’ to keep their partner happy. They might feel ashamed or even just simply hurt.
  • Trust. This is one of the biggest factors. Most addictions involve some form of lying or concealment at one point. Many partners struggle to understand how their partner could have kept this from them, especially if it’s been going on for a long time. Trust can take a long time to rebuild after the revelation of an addiction like this.
  • Financial. On a practical level, gambling addiction can decimate joint or family finances. It’s not uncommon for a problem gambler to dive into savings or take out multiple credit cards. This can leave the family with no other money for their basic needs, including household bills or mortgage payments. It also often means that peripheral things, such as holidays or new clothes for children, become unaffordable.
  • Time. Something often forgotten about addictions is just how much time they take up. Gambling addiction can mean a person is away from their partner or family for long stretches of it — weakening their connection and making it that much harder to recover from the damage done.

What can you do?

The first thing to do if you think your partner is a problem gambler is to seek help.

GamCare has a helpline (0808 8020 133) that’s open seven days a week. They can provide you with advice on what your next steps could be. They can also help you think about whether your partner has a problem — you don’t need to be certain to give them a call. Their trained advisors can give both information and in the moment emotional support to help you feel calmer.

They’ve also got an equivalent online service called Netline, which allows you to exchange instant messages with an advisor, and online forums, where people who’ve been affected by problem gambling talk and support each other.

How we can help

If your relationship has been affected by your partner’s gambling, then we’d strongly recommend coming in for face-to-face counselling.

There may be a fair amount to unpack following something like this. This is not only in terms of the damage it may have done to your relationship or family, but in understanding and coming to terms with the circumstances that lead to the addiction in the first place. Often it takes going back to before the addiction even started to begin to understand why it happened.

Many partners blame themselves for the addiction – believing that if they’d been a better husband or wife, this never would have happened but things are rarely as simple as that. Sometimes figuring things out and getting them in perspective can be much easier if you’ve got a little help.

This is a question I admit I pondered recently as I found myself browsing betting websites searching for football matches from the Macao league. However, I take great care to monitor my wins and losses, try to only bet on value games, and make sure it doesn’t interfere with my life. Sadly, there are thousands of people in the UK alone who can’t say the same.

An article by The Guardian back in 2017 cited a report from the UK Gambling Commission which stated that there were at least 430,000 problem gamblers in Britain. Furthermore, it found up to two million people are at risk of gambling addiction. These are troubling figures, especially given how easy it is to bet online.

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Then there is the small matter of betting adverts that appear everywhere. It is now impossible to watch a sporting event without seeing some fallen celebrity hawking the services of a major betting firm. Sports like horse racing and greyhound racing only exist in their present form because of gambling; but should betting firms be allowed to rub it in our faces?

We have already reached the tipping point in my opinion. Gambling is now ubiquitous; a far cry from a generation ago when people would clandestinely sidle into a bookmaking shop to place the odd bet. These days, any betting shop I peek my head into in the UK is filled with ‘down on their luck’ individuals, usually in their late teens to early twenties, who lose their money on those wretched Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs).

Do I Have a Problem?

Hopefully, most of the people who read this will never have an issue with gambling, but it sneaks up on you quickly. I would surmise that people with a risk-taking personality are more susceptible to the allure of gambling. Interestingly, studies have shown that the pleasure centres in the brain are even more active in the immediate aftermath of placing a bet than when you win!

It can happen to anyone. Tony O’Reilly was a postmaster in Wicklow, Ireland, and his first ever bet was a £1 wager which won at odds of over 40/1. He was in his mid-twenties and had shown no interest in betting before. However, he was enveloped in a terrible addiction that resulted in him stealing from work, losing €1.75 million, and spending time in jail; his marriage also fell apart.

Another ‘ordinary bloke’ named Jason Haddigan became hooked on FOBTs, but only after losing money betting on sports, and three separate prison stints. He came across FOBTs aged 30 and became addicted because the machine allowed you to place a bet every few seconds. He bet hundreds of pounds each time and lost at least £300,000 in total. His addiction also led to four failed relationships and a suicide attempt.

You’ll doubtless read information on problem gambling elsewhere but if you don’t here are a few warning signs.

1. You Will Bet on Anything

I once heard a story about a footballer from the 1970s who would bet £50 on which raindrop would fall to the ground first! (That was a lot of money back then and still is to a lot of people today.) Addicts become obsessed with betting to the point where they begin wagering on whatever sport happens to be on at the time.

In Tony O’Reilly’s book, Tony 10, he provides an in-depth look at what he used to bet on. Aside from well-researched bets, he would bet €20,000 on random tennis matches in the small hours of the morning. If you eschew research and strategy just to have a dabble, you probably have an issue.

2. Gambling Consumes You

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Addicts don’t care if a nuclear war has just started, they have to get their fix and to hell with everything else. If you start missing work, or social events because of your gambling obsession, it is safe to say you are in a hole.


One common thread in every story of betting addiction is the breakdown of human relationships. Tony drifted apart from his wife; Jason did the same with every woman he crossed paths with romantically.

3. Chasing Your Losses

This is arguably the trait that lands most problem gamblers in the mire. It is one thing placing a failed bet or hitting a losing streak; it is quite another to abandon your strategy and begin to chase losses. What usually happens is that the addict bets increasingly larger amounts to the point where they lose so much that financial ruin awaits.

Like Tony and Jason, they start stealing to feed their habit. They don’t care if the money comes from friends, family, co-workers, or the cash register of their employer. Addicts always claim they are seeking one more big win before quitting. In reality, this win hardly ever comes, and when it does, they just end up losing it all. Tony lost almost €500,000 in a weekend after winning it all just days previously for example.

How Do You Know If You've Got A Gambling Problem

4. Lying

When you have a gambling addiction, you prefer if it remains in the shadows. As a result, you start lying to friends and family about the extent of your addiction, and you certainly downplay your losses. In Tony’s case, he was gambling while getting married in Cyprus, and lied to his new bride about it!

5. Gambling to Forget

Addicts tend to bet as a distraction. They may hate their job, be trapped in an unloving relationship, or simply living a life without joy. Regardless, they gamble to forget their worries and escape from reality.

Final Thoughts on Gambling Addiction

We no longer live in an age where a gambling addict will only be spotted in the vicinity of a betting shop. The ease of online gambling means it is incredibly easy to bet on anything you like; from sports to reality TV, there seems to be a market for everything.

You could be living a decent life when suddenly, the betting demon grabs hold of you. Unlike drug addiction, there is seldom any physical sign barring perhaps tiredness from sleepless nights. It doesn’t take long for the illness to take hold and completely ruin your life.

If you suspect that a friend or family member is exhibiting signs of gambling addiction, talk with them and offer to get them help before it is too late. Contact the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 or check out the Gambler’s Anonymous website.

Unfortunately, the betting industry is horrendously regulated, and bookies don’t worry too much about you. They’ll take your money all day long, but they won’t be there to help you climb back out should you find yourself at the bottom of a hole.