Raising concerns about a friend or family member

Dr Jamie Barsky offering guidance to friends and family affected by someone's problematic gambling and how to discuss this in a sensitive way with the person they are concerned about. 

How to talk to someone about gambling: 5 expert tips

AnonyMind clinicians are often asked how to talk to someone about gambling. Whether it’s someone they love, a friend, or a colleague, people can be wary of approaching someone about any kind of addiction or mental health problem.

So here, Dr Jamie Barsky, our Lead Clinician, shares expert advice on how to talk to someone about gambling addiction or behaviours you feel may be harmful to them and the people around them.

My name is Jaime Barsky. I'm a clinical psychologist and the clinical lead for AnonyMind - a specialist treatment service for people with gambling addiction. This blog is specifically for the friends and family members of people who are struggling with gambling addiction, people that we call ‘affected others’. 

The aim of the blog is to offer some advice and guidance on how to start those difficult conversations with people who may be struggling with gambling addiction. 

You might have noticed various signs that cause you some concern about your friend or family member. Maybe they're spending too much money on gambling? Or perhaps you've noticed, they're not always being honest and truthful about how they're spending money or how they're spending their time. 

You might have even noticed that their mood, state of mind, and emotional wellbeing is dependent on how they're doing with their gambling. 

Starting a conversation with someone that might be struggling with gambling can feel really difficult. The person themselves may not even consider that they have a problem and discussing that with them might trigger a strong emotion, such as anger, or denial. 

So how do you start those conversations and try to help the person you're talking to really hear your concerns?

How to talk to someone about gambling

Tip one: Choosing the right time to talk

The first tip I would give anyone trying to start one of those difficult conversations is to think about the timing carefully.

Choosing a time when you and the other person are not too emotionally charged would be a good starting point. Think about a time where you're both available and not too distracted by the daily stresses of everyday life. 

Tip two: Choosing your tone

The second tip I’d give is a communication tip called ‘small mouth big ear’. What that means is the calmer and quieter you can be in how you express your concerns, the more receptive and open the other person will be to hearing you out. So that's why the smaller your mouth, the bigger the other person's ear might be. 

And this one works in the opposite way as well. The bigger your mouth, through volume, or aggressive tones of voice, the smaller the other person's ear will be; the less likely they will be to really hear what you've got to say. 

Tip three: Use ‘I’ statements

The third tip I'd give to help you have one of these difficult conversations with someone you are concerned about is by using something called ‘I statements’. 

These are all about focusing on how you are feeling about a situation rather than focusing too much on what the other person is doing or what the other person has said. For example, when talking to someone about their gambling habits, it might be helpful to focus on your concerns and your worries, rather than focusing in too much detail on what they are doing or what they've done. 

This would involve sharing that you are concerned and anxious about some of the things you have noticed, rather than discussing in lots of detail what the other person's gambling habits might be really helpful.

This is another way to help the person you're talking to so they can really hear you out. 

Tip four: Focus on your main point

The fourth tip is to stay really focused. You want to help the other person hear your concerns. So, the focus of the conversation should stick to those things; your concerns, which in this case may be a person's gambling habits. 

It can be really tempting in a heated conversation, when emotions are running high, to start to discuss many other things that cause you concern or make you feel stressed. Often, that just becomes a distraction from the main point that you want to get across. 

Tip five: Think small steps

The final tip to approaching these difficult conversations with people you are concerned about is to think about the small steps that might help you achieve your longer-term goals. 

It might just feel too difficult for the other person to imagine giving up gambling forever. So, it can be really helpful just to think about the smallest steps towards that longer-term goal. For example, one small step might be to encourage your loved one to talk to one of our professionals at AnonyMind to think about their gambling habits and to get a neutral person's opinion on whether they do need help with gambling behaviours.

Further help

So, they're the five tips to consider if you wanted to broach this really difficult topic with someone you care about. Try them out. And if these tips are helpful in encouraging the person you care about to consider whether they might have a gambling problem, we're here at AnonyMind to offer further help. Our secure website - AnonyMind.com/GetHelp - offers anyone struggling with gambling behaviours access to information and self-help. We can even arrange a face-to-face contact through our website with one of our psychologists or psychotherapists. Take a look at my first blog to learn more about the first few sessions of therapy.

I hope you found this helpful, and good luck.

Dr Jamie Barsky

Clinical Lead