• Jul 26, 2021
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How to help a gambler

Gambling and betting turn out to be activities that many of us have participated in at some point and they have turned out to be entertaining to have fun with friends. However, addiction to these games of chance represents a source of conflict with family, friends and, above all, with himself by distorting himself by an obsessive and pathological need to continue playing without weighing the consequences that carries. In this Psychology-Online article we explain how to help a gambler.

You may also like: How to help an alcoholic friend


  1. What is gambling
  2. How is compulsive gambling treated
  3. Can you get out of gambling without help?
  4. How to help a person with compulsive gambling

What is gambling.

The gambling is a disorder consisting of the progressive alteration of behavior in which the subject experiences a uncontrollable urge to play, despite the consequences it causes.


It is considered by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM 5 (2013) for a disorder called pathological gambling if you meet four or more of the following symptom:

  1. Need to play gambling with larger amounts of money or goods to get the desired arousal.
  2. You have made repeated efforts to control, abandon or reduce the game without success.
  3. Most of the time it is irritated or anxious, especially when trying to cut down or quit the game.
  4. When losing money on gambling, usually come back another day to try to win or recoup losses.
  5. It is frequently thinking about the bets (recalling past betting experiences, planning your next bet).
  6. Generally bet when you have any discomfort or vicissitude (anxiety, depression, guilt, abandonment).
  7. Lie to be able to hide how involved you are in the game.
  8. He often relies on others for money to ease his financial situation.
  9. Has put at risk, or even, has lost a job, an important relationship, an academic or professional career because of gambling.


Pathological gambling can present itself in two ways; episodically or recurrently:

  • Is considered episodic when you meet the above symptoms on more than one occasion but they decrease for several months.
  • It is recurrent when symptoms occur continuously for several years.

Three forms of gravity are also recognized:

  • Mild: meets 4-5 symptoms
  • Moderate: meets 6-7 symptoms
  • Serious: turns 8-9 symptoms

How is compulsive gambling treated.

The treatment of compulsive gambling, as it is an addictive disorder, is oriented in a way very similar to addictions to substances. Here are some of the treatments for gambling:


Since gambling has been considered an addiction, the use of therapeutic techniques has been used that have shown their usefulness in controlling the problem. alcoholism and of the drug addiction.

The cognitive behavioral therapy focuses on identifying pathological beliefs or cognitive errors in order to be able to replace them with those that turn out to be of benefit to the health of patients. In pathological players, cognitive biases are detected that facilitate excessive involvement in the game, such as the illusion of control, superstitious thinking, or miscalculation of odds.

Familiarity with gambling develops an illusion of control on the part of the ill subject, as well as a perceived self-efficacy related to the highest probability of profit. For this reason, regular players have more pathological (irrational) thoughts than casual gamers, which leads them to take on more risky behaviors.

On the other hand, these subjects also tend to evaluate the results of the game in a biased way: with a belief that the continued losses herald the arrival of a huge imminent profit that will allow them to recover, even get more Profits.

Cognitive behavioral therapy highlights the importance of modification of cognitive distortions in order to reduce the urge to play and gambling behaviors per se. The goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is to guide the patient to cope with irrational thoughts and establish a relationship between thoughts, emotions and behaviors, as well as locating the self-verbalizations used in relation to the game.


The interest of pharmacological intervention in gambling arises from the involvement or function of some neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, in brain reward mechanisms. In general, dopamine is associated with the reward and motivation system, norepinephrine with activation and search for rewards (novelties), serotonin is associated with compulsion.

  • The drugs that have been shown to have positive results in gambling act on these neurotransmission systems and these are the serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), mood stabilizers, atypical neuroleptics, and opiate antagonists. The IRSS have shown a significant decrease in the craving for gambling and compulsive behaviors, and especially when there is comorbidity of some other pathologies of anxiety or depression.
  • The mood stabilizers like lithium or topiramate, they can show quite positive results in the treatment of compulsive gambling when used as negative mood regulators.
  • The opiate antagonists, as naltrexone can inhibit feelings of euphoria associated with gambling, which can reduce cravings and thoughts of gambling (pleasure) and thus improve functioning Social; They are especially indicated when the craving for gambling at the beginning of treatment is very strong or when there is a family history of alcoholism.

At a clinical level, the use of psychotropic drugs will be useful when there is a comorbidity to gambling (depression, bipolarity, anxiety disorders, ADHD). Specifically, drugs can be of benefit as an adjunctive treatment to psychological therapy.

  • Internment

The admission of the subjects to a hospital center is recommended in cases with severe acute crises, with repeated therapeutic failures and with comorbid disorders, especially depression and suicide attempts.

Can you get out of gambling without help?

Pathological gambling is one of the disorders recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, and like many of the pathologies categorized in DSM 5, you mainly need professional intervention.

Certainly a social and family support It contributes considerably to the recovery of health, in the same way that one is aware of the problem and per se gives the need for a correction in habits or compulsive behaviors. However, these attempts at a solution on their own and with the help of close people are seen limited by clinical issues that are often unknown. These attempts are also diminished by the concomitant symptoms themselves (for example, of a depression or an anxiety disorder), causing abandonment to the recovery processes initiated.

For this reason we recommend that in addition to the essential support of family and friends, an intervention by a health professional should be sought.

How to help a person with compulsive gambling.

How to help a person with problems with gambling? These are the most important tips to help a friend or family member with pathological gambling:

1. Get informed

Find information about the symptoms of the person with compulsive gambling you want to help. Finding out about the pathology that has damaged the relationship with the sick person will allow us to understand not only the behavioral presentation, but also its cognitive and emotional characteristics.

2. Analyze the emotional world

People who manifest symptoms of compulsive gambling often have an underlying emotional conflicts that operate as the etiology of this disease.

Observe at what moments in the life of the patient symptoms are manifested or exacerbated (for example, they may There are social or family conflicts, such as a disagreement or discussion that act as triggers of the symptom). Sometimes patients learn to use gambling as a pain avoidance mechanism emotional.

How to help a gambler who does not recognize it?Support, guide and accompany At this time, the sick person can be effective in recovering their health.

3. Don't keep contributing to symptoms

What to do when a gambler doesn't want help? Sometimes, to alleviate the discomfort of the sick person, we prefer to give him what he is asking for (many sometimes financial resources, sometimes support activities), but the problem needs to be addressed Y not make it easy for him to escape of the same.

This article is merely informative, in Psychology-Online we do not have the power to make a diagnosis or recommend a treatment. We invite you to go to a psychologist to treat your particular case.

If you want to read more articles similar to How to help a gambler, we recommend that you enter our category of Addictions.


  • American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5). Editorial Panamericana.
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