When Is Gambling a Problem?
Sara Croymans, Extension Educator — Family Resource Management
Reviewed September 2016 by Sharon Powell, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency.
English | español
Gambling has become a popular activity for many. According to the Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance, 75 percent of Minnesotans have participated in some form of gambling in the last year. Oftentimes, gambling can be a fun, leisure-time activity, whether it is playing cards with friends or bingo at church, buying lottery tickets at the convenience store or pull tabs at the local tavern, or participating in the occasional office pool. For some individuals, however, gambling can change from an entertaining pastime to a harmful addiction. It is important to know the signs of problem gambling and how to find help.
Signs of Problem Gambling
Problem gambling, also referred to as compulsive gambling, is defined as the urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop. Signs of problem gambling in yourself or others include:
- Excessive time spent away from home.
- Lost time at work or school.
- Calls and mail from bill collectors.
- Lying about gambling activity.
- Abrupt changes in personality and moods.
Besides harming themselves, problem gamblers behave in ways that can have harmful effects on their families. Several factors may be impacted, including trust, respect, relationships, family dynamics, employment, financial security, and reputations. As a result, family members may suffer from or experience stress, isolation, neglect, distrust, resentment or anger, or domestic violence, as well as combinations of disorders, such as depression and substance abuse.
Starting the Conversation
Starting a conversation with loved ones about problem gambling so they can get help can be challenging. The Northstar Problem Gaming Alliance has great advice on its How to Start a Conversation With a Problem Gambler web page. Keys to a productive conversation include letting your loved one know you care about him or her, sharing your concerns, listening, and directing him or her to resources. Remember that only the gambler can make the decision to stop gambling.
Whether you’re struggling with problem gambling yourself or worried about a spouse, family member, or friend, help is available through the following resources.
- Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance — This non-profit, gambling-neutral organization is dedicated to improving the lives of Minnesotans affected by problem gambling and is the Minnesota affiliate of the National Council on Problem Gambling. Check out their Resources for Gambling Help web page for a summary of available treatment programs and online resources.
- Minnesota Problem Treatment Gambling Program — Treatment programs managed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services are available at a number of locations across Minnesota. Funding is available for treatment, regardless of income level. Call 1-800-333-4673 (HOPE) or visit their web page.
- Gamblers Anonymous — Gamblers Anonymous is a 12-step support program that holds meetings in approximately 70 communities around Minnesota. For more on the Minnesota program, visit the Minnesota Area 8A Gamblers Anonymous website or call 1-855-222-5542 (1-855-2CALLGA).
- Gam-Anon — Gam-Anon is an organization for families and close friends of problem gamblers that holds meetings in nearly 20 cities around the state. Visit their website or call the toll-free helpline at 1-888-435-7166 (1-888-HELP1MN).
National Council on Problem Gambling. (2007). Family issues.
Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance. (2016). Resources for gambling help.
Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance. (2016). Gambling decisions: Whether, when, how much?
Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance. (2016). How to start a conversation with a problem gambler.
Note: The resources from other states are listed below because they are available in multiple languages and provide good information. That being said, the direct support services (phone lines, etc.) described in some of these resources are only available to people in the corresponding state, and are not available to Minnesotans. To get one-on-one help and referrals in Minnesota, see the resources listed above under “Getting Help.”
Gambling Problems — Minnesota Department of Human Services — Get information about the helpline, programs, services, and resources available to Minnesotans with gambling addiction issues.
Dealing with Stress — View online courses and resources for understanding and coping with stress.
Are You Living With a Compulsive Gambler? — Gam-Anon — Answer these 20 questions to help you determine whether someone you live with has a gambling problem.
Personal Financial Strategies for Loved Ones of Problem Gamblers — National Endowment for Financial Education — This booklet on problem gambling covers a variety of topics ranging from determining whether someone has a gambling problem to finding help for financial recovery. Problem gambling resources are included.
Talking with Children About Gambling — National Center for Responsible Gaming — English | español | Other Languages — Access this research-based guide designed to help parents, as well as others who work with youth, deter children from gambling and recognize possible warning signs of problem gambling and other risky behaviors.
Gamblers, Family and Youth — Office of Problem Gambling; California Department of Public Health — Get information for the gambler, family and friends who are concerned about a gambler in their live, and parents who are trying to help their child with a gambling issue. English | español
Fact Sheets — Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling — Learn more about problem gambling and how it relates to specific populations. All fact sheets are available in English and Spanish.