When is gambling a problem?

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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. But, for some individuals, gambling can change from entertainment 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, or compulsive gambling, is the urge to gamble despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop. Signs of problem gambling 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.

Family issues

Besides harming themselves, problem gamblers’ behavior can have harmful effects on their families. Gambling can negatively impact:

  • Trust.
  • Respect.
  • Relationships.
  • Family dynamics.
  • Employment.
  • Financial security.
  • Reputations.

As a result, family members may experience stress, isolation, neglect, distrust, resentment or anger, or domestic violence. They may also suffer from disorders such as depression and substance abuse.

Starting the conversation

Starting a conversation with a loved one about problem gambling can be challenging. The Northstar Problem Gaming Alliance has great advice on its How to start a conversation with a problem gambler webpage. Letting your loved one know you care and directing him or her to resources can help. Remember that only the gambler can make the decision to stop gambling.

Getting help

Whether you’re struggling with problem gambling yourself or worried about someone else, help is available. Check out the following resources.

  • Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance — This non-profit organization is the Minnesota affiliate of the National Council on Problem Gambling. Check out their Resources for gambling help webpage for treatment programs and online resources.
  • Minnesota Problem Treatment Gambling Program — Treatment programs managed by the Minnesota Department of Human Services are available at many locations across Minnesota. Funding is available for treatment, regardless of income level. Call 1-800-333-4673 (HOPE) or visit their webpage.
  • Gamblers Anonymous — This is a 12-step support program that holds meetings in about 70 communities around the state. For more on the Minnesota program, visit the Minnesota Area 8A Gamblers Anonymous website or call 1-855-222-5542.
  • Gam-Anon — Gam-Anon is an organization for families and close friends of problem gamblers. Meetings are held in nearly 20 cities around the state. Visit their website or call the toll-free helpline at 1-888-435-7166 (1-888-HELP1MN).

Related resources

Gambling ProblemsMinnesota Department of Human Services — Get information about the helpline, programs, services, and resources available to Minnesotans with gambling addiction issues.

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 GamblersNational 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 SheetsMassachusetts 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.

Sara Croymans, Extension educator in family resource management

Reviewed 2016 by Sharon Powell, Extension educator in family resiliency

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