Gambling takes many different forms, for example, betting on sports, card games such as poker and blackjack and slot machines. Certain types of gambling have mass appeal, for example, the National Lottery, Bingo and famous horse races such as the Grand National. Gambling is not necessarily risky and indeed it can be fun, however, problem gambling can have devastating consequences.
According to GamCare, problem gambling can be progressive in nature and gamblers will regularly spend all of their wages and savings on their gambling. From here, it can be just a short step to taking out loans to cover gambling losses, and some gamblers can end up engaging in criminal activity in order to fund their gambling.
Problem gambling can negatively impact on all areas of life, including relationships, health, work and self-esteem. There is lots of help and advice available, not only for gamblers but also for their friends and family and information on help available is included in this fact sheet.
Recognising there is a gambling problem
According to the NHS choices website, there could be as many as 593,000 problem gamblers in Great Britain. Many people are unaware of the fact that they have a gambling problem. Compulsive gamblers often suffer from low esteem, stress, anxiety and depression.
GamCare is a charity dedicated to helping problem gamblers and their families and friends. They have developed a self-assessment tool that can help people to find out more about their gambling behaviour and how it impacts on their life. Answering a series of statements will then provide people with a breakdown of how gambling affects their life, including time spent gambling, stakes risked, finances and relationships. For further information, visit the GamCare website.
Compulsive gambling can often start when someone is in their late teens. Big Deal, who are a part of GamCare, help to support young people with gambling issues and they identify that the two biggest risk factors for young people are a history of gambling in their family and the age they start gambling themselves. The earlier people start, the more likely they are to experience gambling-related problems later on. For further information, including signs and symptoms of problem gambling in young people, see the Big Deal website.
Relationships and Family
As with all addictions, the gambler does not suffer alone. Gambling problems can remain hidden for a long time, but ultimately, relationships will suffer and some relationships will not survive a gambling problem. According to the Gordon Moody Association, a provider of therapeutic support to problem gamblers and those affected by it, it is estimated that for every problem gambler, at least ten other family members, friends and colleagues are also directly affected. The negative impact of gambling is only just beginning to be recognised and analysed.
Gamcare has an on-line forum especially designed for family and friends and also provides free counselling services to help them cope. Gamcare can advise on:
- how to support a partner, friend or family member
- getting help with debt
- other services available locally.
For further information, see the Gamcare website.
Gambling and debt
Problem gambling can put a huge stress on finances and many families are shocked when they learn how much money has been lost. Gamblers may spend all of their wages/savings on their gambling habit, and then resort to credit cards and loans to finance their habit. Help may be needed with debt if someone regularly:-
- uses overdrafts and credit cards to pay for gambling
- misses payments on priority bills
- gambles to win money to pay off debts.
StepChange are an independent charity offering tailored advice and practical solutions to people who are in debt. StepChange recommend that both problems are tackled together. For further information about taking control of debt, visit the Stepchange website.
Pharmacist Support can provide free and confidential debt advice. A specially-trained Citizens Advice adviser will help, for example, to prepare a financial statement or reschedule payments to creditors. For further information, contact us on our general enquiry line: 0808 168 2233, or email us at email@example.com
For further information about dealing with debt, see our Help with debt fact sheet.
Other useful debt organisations
Debt Advice Foundation
Debt Advice Foundation is a charity offering free, impartial support and advice to anybody who is worried about debt. For further information, call the Debt Advice helpline on 0800 043 40 40, or visit the Debt Advice Foundation website.
Money Helper is a not-for-profit government organisation that offers help to people with their finances. For free impartial advice, call the Money Helper helpline on 0800 138 7777, or see the Money Helper website.
The National Debtline provides free confidential and independent advice on how to deal with debt problems. For further information, call the National Debt helpline on 0808 808 4000, or see the National Debtline website.
Gambling and alcohol
Drinking and gambling can both become habits. Many gambling venues serve alcohol, for example, bingo halls and casinos, and for some, being in these venues means they:
- tend to drink more
- spend more money on gambling
- stay out for longer than intended.
According to the 2012 NatCen Gambling behaviour in England and Scotland report, gambling rates are higher amongst people who drink (69%) than those who do not (43%). The statistics also reveal that gamblers who drank on three or four days per week (74%), had higher gambling participation rates than those who drank less than once a month (66%).
Overall, the report concludes that gambling participation increased as the number of units of alcohol consumed increased. This may be because people who gamble often engage in a greater number of health and lifestyle risks.
For further information, see our Help with alcoholism fact sheet.
Help for gamblers
Problem gambling can negatively impact on all areas of life, including relationships, health and work. There is lots of help and advice available, not only for gamblers but also for their friends and family.
One of the ways in which gamblers can help themselves is by limiting their access to gambling. For people who have difficulty in staying away from a particular venue/website, self-exclusion could help.
Self-exclusion – on-line
Gamblers can ask gambling operators to exclude them from gambling with them for a set length of time. This is an option that all UK gambling operators have to provide by law. To self-exclude from on-line gambling sites people will need to contact each individual website operator. Operators can only close accounts at the account holder’s request, although most are happy to work with registered charities who are assisting people with gambling problems. For further information about self-exclusion from on-line operators, including an up-to-date list of UK operators, see the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) website.
Self-exclusion – gambling venues
For gambling venues, people can simply visit the venues that they normally use and ask a member of staff for further assistance. GamCare recommend taking a couple of passport size photographs to go on the self-exclusion form, as this will help members of staff to identify excluded gamblers. Venues will also provide gamblers with a copy of the self-exclusion form.
Given that many localities are saturated with gambling venues, gamblers may find it difficult to visit each venue personally. Count Me Out, operators of a national self-exclusion service for people who wish to stop gambling, have identified that this can completely de-motivate a problem gambler who is trying to resolve their addiction issues. The Count Me Out gambling self-exclusion programme enables someone to fill in one form that is then legally shared with all gambling venues in their local area. For further information, see the Count Me Out website.
There are numerous software packages available that are designed to block certain internet nets. Some are more general, for example they will block many websites that have adult content, and will have set access permissions/parental controls. Other packages will be specifically related to the blocking of gambling websites.
Given that many gambler open multiple on-line accounts, Gamcare advise that blocking software can help, as if nothing else, it can allow for thinking time when people feel the urge to gamble. They cannot recommend any particular software, but there are many different ones to choose from. Examples include Netnanny, Gamblock and Betfilter.
For further information about blocking software and how it might help, see the Gamcare website.
Help from other sources
Whilst self-help is certainly useful, most gamblers will need additional support in order to control their addiction successfully.
Help through the NHS
There is a variety of help available for gamblers via the NHS. According to the NHS Choices website, gambling is no different to other addictions, and can be treated successfully in the same way as other addictions. The NHS have found that cognitive behavioural therapy often has the best results.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
A course of CBT on the NHS typically involves between six and fifteen sessions, with each session lasting an hour. The therapy can be delivered in a number of ways including face to face, (both individually or in a group), by phone, email and through on-line self-help programmes. For further information on the benefits of therapy and the kind of help that is available, see the NHS Choices website.
Accessing therapy and/or counselling through the NHS
The Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme is a long-term government plan set in place to make all forms of psychological therapy easily available via the NHS. This means that anyone who needs therapy, such as counselling, can access it through their GP, workplace, educational establishment or voluntary and charitable organisations. Ordinarily, this service is free to NHS users and your GP should be aware of what is available locally and also make the necessary referral.
For those who prefer not to go through their GP, local psychological therapy services can be found on the NHS Choices website.
However, availability of services can vary and in some parts of England, in particular rural areas or small towns, NHS therapy can be very limited. Equally, people may have to wait a long time or travel some distance to find something suitable.
Alternatives to the NHS
There are many alternative organisations that provide therapeutic services to gamblers and their families and friends. These include charities and private providers.
Pharmacist Support Addiction Support Programme
The Addiction Support Programme exists to support those with dependency issues. This service provides access to a fully qualified addiction specialist with many years of experience in the field, and all calls to the helpline are entirely confidential. If you have a dependency issue, you can contact the Health Support Programme direct for advice.
Call Addiction Support direct on 0808 168 5132, or for further details, visit our website.
Some charities offer free, or relatively inexpensive counselling services. These include:-
- Addiction Helper for free advice about NHS and private treatments
- Beacon Counselling Trust for free gambling counselling and support in the North West
- Have I got a problem? for free counselling via instant messaging
- Gamcare have a free telephone support line and an on-line text ‘chat service
If none of these prove to be suitable people can opt to find and pay for a counsellor themselves. There are no rules governing who can advertise counselling services, so it is essential to check that the therapist is listed on one of the registers of approved practitioners.
For further guidance on how to choose a therapist, look at You and your therapist on the NHS choices website. The Counselling Directory and The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy both provide directories that list counsellors available in your local area.
Other useful gambling organisations
Gamblers Anonymous offers support to problem gamblers. It is made up of men and women who have experienced gambling problems themselves. Services include meetings, chat rooms and forums. For further information, including how to find a meeting in your local area, see the Gamblers Anonymous website.
Gamblers Anonymous Scotland
Gamblers Anonymous Scotland offers support to problem gamblers. Services include meetings, live chats online and a 24 hour telephone helpline. For further information, call the Gamblers Anonymous helpline on 0370 050 8881, or visit the Gamblers Anonymous Scotland website.
Gamble Aware gives advice about responsible gambling, including staying in control of how much time and money you spend. For further information see the Gamble Aware website.
National Problem Gambling Clinic
The National Problem Gambling Clinic provides treatment for problem gamblers aged 16 and over in England and Wales. For further information, see the National Problem Gambling Clinic website.
The Christian Centre for Gambling Rehabilitation
The Christian Centre for Gambling Rehabilitation is a Chinese Christian charity that helps mainly Chinese speaking problem gamblers. Services include information, counselling and money advice. For further information, see the Christian Centre for Gambling Rehabilitation website.
Gam-Anon offers support to those who have been affected by another person’s gambling. It is made up of individuals who have partners, relatives or close friends who have been affected by problem gambling. For further information, see the Gam-Anon website.
This fact sheet was last reviewed on 23 July 2021.