Compulsive gambling is an addiction. According to the Rutland Centre, around one to three percent of the Irish population may be compulsive gamblers, the majority being men.

However, both women and young people are also seeking treatment for gambling problems.

ReachOut Parents Youth Mental HealthWhat’s compulsive gambling?

Compulsive gambling is when a person is unable to resist the impulse to gamble despite disruption and compromise in personal, family, social and work life.

How can you tell if a young person is a compulsive gambler?

Recognising compulsive gambling is difficult. Sometimes there are no obvious signs. It’s often a secret activity.

Here are some signs you can look out for:

  • Asking for/borrowing money from the family
  • Unexplained debt
  • Sudden drop in marks in school or college
  • Carries or possesses gambling materials, such as dice, playing cards, or other gambling materials
  • Says gambling is one of the best ways to make easy money
  • Borrows money from family/friends to pay gambling debts
  • Takes desperate measures to get more money for gambling, such as stealing from family
  • Gambles with money meant for something else, such as lunch, bus fare, etc.
  • Neglects family/friends
  • Mood swings – usually high when winning and lower when losing
  • Lies about gambling
  • Having unexplained large amounts of cash and other material possessions
  • Gambles as a form of escapsim.

What should you do?

If you’re worried about your son or daughter gambling talking to them can help. Look for ways to bring up the topic casually.

There are countless TV and newspaper ads that you could use as a prompt to talk about it. Gambling sites are now actively targeting college students and any one of these ads could be a conversation starter.

Ask questions

Find out what your son or daughter thinks or feels about gambling, or if they know someone who gambles regularly. Try to ask about this before offering your own opinion.

Be patient. You might have to try to start this conversation a few times before you can truly explore what they know or have experienced.

If you’re talking about drugs or alcohol with your son or daughter, include problem gambling as other potentially risky behaviour in the conversation.

Dispel any myths

Make sure they know gambling is not an easy way to make money. Online gambling is a huge industry, targeting young people with fiver off incentives and smart marketing.

Games run by casinos, racetracks, websites and lotteries are all designed so that people lose money in the long run. These games are designed to make profits for the industry, not for the players.

Many problem gamblers can lose sight of this. They can believe that they can “win back” the money lost.

Gambling carries risk and problem gambling can lead to serious consequences throughout life, including the loss of huge amounts of money, destruction of a career, legal problems, and the loss of friends and family.

Try to avoid judging

Try not to be judgemental as it can alienate the friend you’re trying to help. Remember people who need help to manage their gambling may feel ashamed and not want to talk about it. By letting them know you’re not judging them they may be more likely to open up.

Know how to help

Suggest they talk to a counsellor about how they can manage their gambling. If they’re not ready to do that, suggest they attend a Gambler’s Anonymous meeting. That way they can meet other people going through the same experience as themselves, and can talk about it as much or as little as they want.

Mind yourself

Helping someone who isn’t ready to change their behaviour can be hard, and the decision to get help is ultimately theirs.

Sometimes we get so concerned for someone else we stop looking after ourselves. It’s important you look after your own mental health and well-being.


Set the example you’d like your son or daughter to follow. If you gamble, do so for fun and in moderation.

Talk about the risks of gambling

Encourage involvement in other pursuits, such as the arts, sports or other constructive activities.

Avoid hosting or participating in gambling parties involving young people; if you are involved in such an event make sure information about problem gambling and where to get help is provided.

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