Problem gambling

Problem gambling is gambling that:

  • is disruptive or damaging to you or your family
  • interferes with your daily life

Most people in the UK have gambled at some point. Activities like playing the lottery once or twice a week aren’t harmful.

However, for some people, gambling becomes a problem or an addiction.

Effects of problem gambling

While problem gambling itself doesn’t have physical symptoms, it can affect many areas of life. These include:

  • reduced quality of life – if you have less money or free time
  • problems with your social life – if you avoid seeing friends or going out
  • physical illnesses caused by a lack of activity, or if you drink more alcohol while gambling
  • financial problems – if you run up debts and do not have enough money for essentials
  • relationship problems – if you have arguments with family and friends or conflict with your partner about financial difficulties
  • criminal activity – if you find yourself committing crimes to fund your gambling habit
  • unemployment or difficulties at work – if you find yourself gambling in the workplace or taking time off because of gambling

Even if you haven’t experienced any of these issues yet, problem gambling means these negative effects may happen in the future. It’s important to be mindful of the impact gambling could have on you or your family.

Signs of problem gambling

If you think you might have a gambling problem, help is available.

To start, answer these 10 questions with ‘yes’ or ‘no’:

  1. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about gambling?
  2. Are you spending more money on gambling as time goes on?
  3. Have you ever tried to stop gambling, or cut down on or control your gambling, and not been able to?
  4. Do you get restless or irritable if you try to cut down on gambling?
  5. Do you gamble to escape from difficulties in your life, or to cheer yourself up?
  6. Do you keep playing after losing money to try to win it back (often called ‘chasing losses’)?
  7. Have you lied to other people about how much time or money you’ve spent gambling, or how much you’ve lost?
  8. Have you ever stolen money to fund gambling?
  9. Has gambling affected your job, relationships, or home life?
  10. Do you ask other people to lend you money when you’ve lost money through gambling?

Now count up how many times you answered yes.

If you answered yes to 1 question, you might have a problem. It would be a good idea to seek help.

If you answered yes to 2 questions, gambling probably feels like it’s a problem. You should seek help.

If you answered yes to 5 or more questions, it’s likely gambling feels like it’s affecting every part of your life. You should get help as soon as possible.

How problem gambling happens

Some people seem to be more likely to develop a gambling problem than others.

While a gambling problem can start at any age, people who start as teenagers or young adults are more likely to become problem gamblers. Older people who feel isolated or bored can also be attracted to gambling.

People who work in casinos, betting shops or arcades can be more likely to develop a gambling habit.

Certain types of gambling are more likely to lead to a problem than others. These include:

  • mobile or online gambling, like betting or bingo websites and apps
  • video poker
  • roulette
  • dice games
  • the stock market
  • playing sports for money

Engaging in these activities doesn’t mean you have a problem with gambling. But, it’s important to be aware that these types of gambling are particularly addictive.

Things that could make problem gambling more likely

There are some factors that can make a person more vulnerable to developing a gambling problem. These include:

  • having a mental health condition
  • having an alcohol or drug problem
  • being in prison
  • having a family member (particularly a parent) with a gambling addiction
  • having started gambling at an early age
  • having struggled to control your gambling from the first time you did it (even if you don’t gamble very often)

This doesn’t mean that everyone in these circumstances will develop a problem. But, it’s important to be aware of the risk if gambling is something you do.

Self-help for problem gambling

If you feel your gambling has become a problem, there are steps you can take right away to start improving your situation.

Limit how much you can spend on gambling and this will help to reduce the time you spend gambling. Try to fill your time with other things and don’t think of gambling as a way to make money.


  • pay all your essential bills as soon as you get paid.
  • set yourself a weekly limit to spend on gambling
  • if you go out to gamble, take cash and leave your at home, so you can’t spend more than planned
  • if you use gambling websites and apps, set a limit on your account so you can’t overspend
  • talk to your bank about blocking certain websites or locations, like betting websites or casinos
  • use GAMSTOP to block yourself from accessing online gambling sites and gambling apps and contact gambling websites and apps to ask them to block you
  • set a specific limit on how often you gamble in a week including named days, for example: “I will only gamble on Tuesdays and Fridays.”
  • set alarms or alerts on your phone, watch, or computer to remind you when it’s time to close the site or app and stop gambling for the day
  • remind yourself frequently that gambling isn’t a way to make money – you’re paying for entertainment – you’re not earning money by gambling
  • prepare yourself to lose – remind yourself that winning is by chance, and not something that happens more often than losing
  • tell your friends and family not to lend you money if you ask
  • spend more time with friends and family
  • join clubs or social groups that don’t involve gambling – this is a good time to take up a new hobby, or restart one you haven’t done for a while
  • talk to friends and family about your situation and your concerns, rather than ‘bottling up’ your feelings.


  • do not open up gambling sites or apps for a ‘quick go’ or to make one bet, as it’s likely that you’ll find it hard to stick to just one
  • do not spend money from savings or investments on gambling
  • do not spend time with people you know who gamble, or people you usually gamble with

For more self-help advice and tools, you can access resources on the GamCare website.

Getting help with problem gambling

There are a lot of ways to access help with problem gambling. There’s also support available if you have a loved one with a gambling problem.

Where to find support for yourself

Gamblers Anonymous Scotland has meetings every day and is free to attend. The meetings are informal and friendly. They have a 24-hour helpline you can phone on 0370 050 8881.

If you’re looking for ways to stop yourself from gambling, GAMSTOP allows you to block your access to certain gambling websites and apps.

For advice on gambling as safely as possible, or help reporting a gambling business that’s breaking the law, visit the Gambling Commission website.

Where to find support for others

If you have a loved one with a gambling problem, support is available from Gam-Anon Scotland. The organisation has supportive, confidential meetings that are separate from Gamblers Anonymous meetings. You can phone the Gam-Anon 24-hour helpline on 0370 050 8881.

GamCare provides information, advice and support for anyone affected by problem gambling. It operates the National Gambling Helpline, and provides treatment for problem gamblers and their families. You can phone the Helpline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on 0808 8020 133.

If you’re looking for help educating a young person about gambling, or need educational materials for a class or youth group, the Fast Forward Gambling Education Hub has some useful resources.

Other sources of help and support

For other help and support, use Scotland’s Service Directory to find counselling, mental wellbeing, and money advice services in your area.

If you’re struggling with the impact gambling is having on your life, or the life of a loved one, phone Breathing Space on 0800 83 85 87 for support and counselling. Breathing Space is open:

  • Weekdays: Monday to Thursday 6pm to 2am
  • Weekends: Friday 6pm to Monday 6am

Last updated:
15 July 2024