Gambling Addiction



Family, friends and co-workers may experience the negative impacts of one’s addiction long before the gambler seeks help, if they do at all.  Families often express disbelief and shock when they learn their family member has gambled away their life savings. In addition to the financial impact, families may also feel intense shame as a result of the loved one’s gambling addiction.

In Minnesota, help is available for families with someone who has a gambling addiction. Treatment is often available at no cost, and families may seek 12 hours per year with a state–approved counselor, regardless of whether the gambler seeks counseling.


What Should I do?

I’ve discovered my spouse/friend has a gambling addiction

Determine ways in which you can keep your family assets safe. Seek advice from an attorney and/or financial planner.

If you’re in a safe relationship, start the conversation.

If you have children, talk with them with age-appropriate explanations.

Connect with GamAnon. This peer support group is specifically for families who have been harmed.

Know that you are not alone. Many families have walked this path and through their own recovery process have reclaimed their lives. Read their stories.

Seek out emotional help. No-cost counseling is available to families. Find a provider near you or use telehealth services.

Consider adding an online blocking tool like Gamban or Betblocker to your mobile devices and computers.

Progression of Gambling Addiction on Families

Much like the problem gambler, there are distinct phases that families and concerned others experience. These include the following:

  • Makes excuses for gambling
  • Considers gambling temporary
  • Socially accepted
  • Accepts increased gambling
  • Rewards from gambling: gifts, trips, time together, share winnings
  • Questions unpaid bills
  • Keeps concerns to self
  • Easily reassured
  • Accepts remorse of gambler
  • Relief: finances are better
  • Spouse spends less time with family
  • Arguments
  • Spouse feels rejected
  • Attempts to control gambling
  • Provides bailouts
  • Isolation
  • Late bills
  • Loss of intimacy
  • Insecure about future
  • Intense resentment
  • Confusion
  • Thinking impaired
  • Physical symptoms
  • Immobilization
  • Rage
  • Doubts sanity
  • Anxiety – panic
  • Suicidal thoughts and attempts
  • Arrests
  • Divorce
  • Increased alcohol consumption
  • Emotional breakdown
  • Withdrawal symptoms


GAMBLING ADDICTION IS A PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE. Why? It not only impacts the individual gambler, but results in harms to families, friends, work colleagues and the overall community. As gambling expands with online gaming and sports betting, more and more people will have easy access and potential to experiencing harms through gambling.

Gambling problems can have profound impacts on the family. Families are often shocked to learn how much money has been lost. Some relationships do not survive a gambling addiction, while other families struggle through difficulties and work to grow stronger together.

Family members should avoid making important decisions about family relationships while under stress. Given that people can and do recover from gambling addiction, counseling can help you explore your options and determine what is best for you and your family.

Living with a loved one’s gambling problem can be emotional and stressful. The following are normal reactions that can enable the gambler or help to hide the problem:

  • Desire to be perfect or “pick up the slack.”
  • Need to keep everyone happy and show them that they are not the cause of the problems.
  • Rebellion, to draw negative attention away from the gambler.
  • Apathy, withdrawal or isolation.
  • Trying to make the gambler feel guilt or shame.
  • Being defensive, making apologies to family and friends or employee.
  • Controlling, trying to set limits physically or emotionally on the gambler.
  • Blaming them.

As you try to sort out your reactions, begin by thinking about the effect another person’s gambling is having on your life. And remember, help is available for family members who are close to a problem gambler!

The fallout from gambling addictions can also lead to severe depression.

If you think you are depressed or overly anxious, speak to your family doctor or other health care professional. Be sure to tell them about the gambling problem.

Physical and Emotional Abuse
Domestic violence happens most often when families are in crisis. Gambling problems can lead to the physical or emotional abuse of a partner, parent or child. If this is happening in your family, get help right away!

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Since gambling and gambling-related activities are frequently carried out during work hours, coworkers are often in the best position to spot employees with gambling problems.

The workplace is primarily affected through lost time, lost productivity and, in desperate situations, the gambler may resort to theft.

Colleagues may notice more emotional distress by either the gambler or a gambler’s loved one as they face the increasing pressures presented by this addiction.

Physical and emotional health problems associated with excessive gambling can further diminish work performance and attendance. Depression, anxiety, high blood pressure or stress-related illness can surface in individuals with gambling-related problems and their family members.


The normalization of gambling has been fostered by workmates offering to set up fantasy football or basketball brackets during college tournament time. While this is not sanctioned gambling, it falls way below authorities’ radars and is considered harmless. However, for the workmate in recovery, who may be keeping their recovery private, these kinds of activities as well as other kinds of gambling activities – raffles, pooled lottery tickets, etc. can be triggers for those new to their recovery journey.

Workplace Signs of a Gambling Problem

  • Work performance deteriorates; the person is preoccupied, has trouble concentrating, is absent or late for meetings and misses assignment deadlines.
  • Frequent unexplained absences or disappearances from work.
  • Eager to organize and participate in betting opportunities.
  • Pay is requested in lieu of vacation time; large blocks of vacation time are not taken.
  • Frequently borrows money, argues with co-workers about money that is owed to them.
  • Complains about mounting debts.
  • Excessive personal calls.
  • Experiences mood swings often related to winning and losing streaks.
  • Credit card or loan bills are mailed to work rather than home.
  • Increasingly spends more time gambling during lunch hours and coffee breaks.
  • False claims are made against expense accounts.
  • Theft of company property.

Remember, gambling addiction is an addiction and should be acknowledged in one’s employee assistance plan. Consult your human resource department for further information.

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For every individual with a gambling addiction the lives of at least seven other people who are close to him or her are adversely affected. Parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, children, employers and fellow employees must deal with the impact of gambling addiction. There can be significant social impacts resulting from gambling addiction which can generate “hard” economic costs for states, communities and individuals.

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that gambling addiction carries an annual cost of $7 billion in bankruptcy, co-occurring disorders and crime.

Other impacts on the community include:

  • domestic violence, neglect of children and family and senior abuse,
  • relationship break-ups/divorce,
  • job loss, unemployment,
  • debt, bankruptcy,
  • eviction-forced home sales or foreclosure,
  • embezzlement, fraud, check forgery,
  • crime, arrest, incarceration,
  • poor physical and mental health, and suicide.

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Gambling addiction causes severe financial, emotional, social and sometimes physical problems for the gambler and their family. Coping with the negative consequences of gambling addiction can be overwhelming, leading to feelings of shame, guilt and hopelessness.

The National Council on Problem Gambling has reported that about 20% of those diagnosed with disordered gambling attempt suicide – a higher percentage than any other addictive disorder. The families of problem gamblers are also at a higher risk of suicide for many of the same reasons. Some studies suggest that the worse the addiction, the more likely it is that the gambler will attempt suicide.

If you or someone you know is talking about suicide, call the national suicide helpline number at 1-800-273-8255 or call the Minnesota Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-333-HOPE or text “HOPE” to 53342.

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Communication between and within families
Frequently, family members are in denial. Some may think they are helping by bailing out the gambler without seeing the ramifications it has for the spouse or children. Additionally, lack of communication is emotionally straining and isolating for concerned others.

Social implications
Unfortunately, there continues to be a lot of shame and stigma about gambling disorder. Families are reluctant to share their situation with other family members or friends.  Keeping this secret is yet another stress. One way to alleviate some of the stress is connecting with a trusted community elder or faith leader, who can offer support in a trusted space.

A big part of recovery for both the gambler and family is honesty and trust. The lies and broken trust from the gambler can be difficult to repair. It’s an essential part of one’s recovery to be honest and to have open communication. Most benefit from having someone facilitate those initial conversations. Family counseling is available at no cost in Minnesota, even if the gambler refuses to seek help.

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To start a conversation:

  • Choose a time when there are no distractions and it’s a comfortable place to have a conversation.
  • Let the gambler know you care about them and tell them you’re concerned about how they’re acting.
  • Explain exactly what they have done that concerns you.
  • Share how their behavior is affecting other people – be specific about what you expect from them (“I want you to talk to someone about your gambling”) and what they can expect from you (“I won’t cover for you anymore”).
  • After you’ve shared your observations and feelings, allow them to respond and listen with a non-judgmental attitude.
  • Let them know you are willing to help, but don’t try to counsel them yourself.
  • Provide information, not advice.

Next steps:

  • Encourage the family member to take positive steps to deal with their gambling.
  • Make steps to seek counseling 1-800-333-HOPE and/or attend a help group (Gambler’s Anonymous, SMART Recovery, etc.)
  • Consider self-excluding from local gambling venues.
  • If online gambling is an issue, get a free subscription to Gamban or BetBlocker.
  • Consider a True Link credit card
  • Seek financial consultation or counseling.
  • Families are eligible for free counseling in Minnesota, whether or not the gambler is willing to seek help. Call the Minnesota Problem Gambling Helpline at 1-800-333-HOPE or text “HOPE” to 53342.

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Tools and Resources

Families should seek financial counseling, with or without the gambler, as they need to protect themselves. Here are some things families can do:

Develop a financial plan which compares expenses and debt with income

Limit the gambler’s access to credit. Apply for credit in your name only

Limit the gambler’s access to cash; create daily limits

Investigate other financial tools that can help to protect the family and their assets

Develop strategies to address financial limitations

Identify debt list

A list of our most sought after presentations can be found here.


Community outreach is an important part of our mission. MNAPG is available to present on a series of issues pertaining to problem gambling such as an introduction to problem gambling, gaming disorder, gambling as a co-occurring addiction, to name just a few topics. These can be geared towards community and school groups to professionals in the addiction, mental health or other professions that are impacted by problem gambling, such as attorneys, employee assistance programs,   to community groups. These visits can be arranged anywhere in Minnesota and are free of charge. The purpose is to broaden the awareness of gambling disorder and who it affects, initiate conversations about prevention, highlight the importance of healthy play and making the public aware of available treatment assessments and options available at little or no cost.

To learn more or to arrange a visit, contact MNAPG Community Educator, Sonja Mertz, or 612-424-8595 x3.

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