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4 Steps to an Effective Gambling Intervention

Someone you care about gambles far more than they should. You’ve tried talking to them about their gambling but your words have never brought any tangible change in gambling behaviors. They may have been angry when you broached the subject or they may have denied the existence of a problem – likely they made some promise to change but that change never really took, if it came at all.

A person with a gambling problem uses defense mechanisms and manipulation to protect their habit and because of this it’s very hard to convince of a need for change, and although you’ve probably felt like screaming or begging or raging at them to change their ways, you probably know by now that such emotional techniques very rarely get the desired results.

But that doesn’t mean that your words don’t have power to influence and that doesn’t mean that you can’t help your loved one when they need it most; you just have to be smart and take the time to do it right.

An informal gambling intervention can get the results your begging and pleading very likely cannot. An intervention, done right, can show how much you care as it also shows how much harm the gambling has done, and since you’ll give concrete examples of such harms it will be very hard for your loved one to deny the existence of a problem.

  • And unlike an unstructured chat, you go into the intervention already knowing what you want your loved one to do – such as go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting – and you’ve already decided on the consequences you’ll impose if he or she won’t agree to your demands.
  • And since you’re going to maintain an aura of concern and compassion throughout the intervention, no matter how your loved one tries to turn the tables through negative emotions, you’ll avoid getting distracted with the fights and battles a gambler picks to avoid spotlighting the gambling itself.

Ready to give one a try?

Well, don’t go into it unprepared – it’s better to wait and do it right than to rush in and botch things up. You’ll want to read up on problem gambling, talk to the people you’ll want to participate, make a list of specific examples of the consequences you’ve observed or experienced and decide on what steps you want your loved one to take – and what consequences you’ll impose if they won’t.

But as a first step on that road, here’s a quick guide to the 4 essential steps to running an effective gambling intervention.

4 Steps to an Effective Gambling Intervention

According to the Arizona Council on Compulsive Gambling the 4 steps to running an effective informal gambling intervention are:

  1. Validation
  2. Documentation
  3. Recommendation
  4. Consequences


During the validation step you set the stage for a loving and caring intervention, because though you may harbor some anger, a witch-hunt style intervention has little chance of success. You do this from a place of love and compassion or not at all.

Your loved one is a person with a gambling problem, but there is much more to that person than the negatives of compulsive gambling. Help your loved one to understand that you see them as more than a person who just creates problems by telling them explicitly how much you care and by listing specific examples of why you care and of their many positive attributes, for example:

  • “Mary, as my big sister you have always taken great care of me and I love you very much. You supported me during my education and during the break-up of my marriage and I want you to know that I really appreciate all you’ve done for me over so many years – you have been a great big sister to me. I think you are a generous, loving, funny and very intelligent woman and I have always admired you for the way you have had the courage to live your life.”


A person with a gambling problem may try to deny the existence or severity of the problem. Maintaining denial gets tougher, however, after every person involved in the intervention lists specific examples of consequences observed and experienced from the gambling and lies and manipulation that always accompany it.

  • Every person involved in the intervention will compose a list, documenting specific examples of negative consequences they have observed or experienced directly as a result of the gambling.
  • Do not write down anything you haven’t experienced or observed directly. Using anything from a second hand source degrades the power of your message and it can deteriorate into a he-said, she-said situation.
  • Some examples of the harms you might list are instances like when gambling led to missed rent payments or when time spent gambling led to a missed child’s birthday party. Be specific and provide the details you can remember about each situation.
  • After you list an example of a gambling related harm, talk about how the situation made you feel. Your loved one may deny the existence of a ‘problem’ but he or she cannot deny how their behaviors make you feel – and if they care about you, this matters.


You haven’t gone through step one and two just to hear yourself talk; you run an intervention for a reason - to get your loved one to take some specific action – and so in step three you ask that your loved one take some action against their gambling problem.

Some examples of actions you may recommend include:

  • Taking a problem gambling assessment test
  • Attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings and getting and working with a sponsor
  • Making a plan for supervised money management (losing access to debit and credit cards, for example)
  • Working with a therapist who specializes in gambling addiction
  • Going to an inpatient gambling addiction treatment facility


The point of the intervention is to see your loved one take some positive steps away from unhealthy gambling. You’ve already researched problem gambling and you’ve already recommended a sensible course of action. You’ve done it all out because you care, and because you care, you need to improve the odds that your loved one will listen to your advice.

To improve the odds, during this last step you explain that not following the recommendations of step 3 will result in some consequences.

  • Be very specific about what you will/won’t do
  • Do not threaten anything you aren’t willing to impose
  • Follow through on what you say1

There’s no easy cure for problem gambling but starting a real dialogue about the reality of the situation and getting someone you love to take some legitimate action towards managing their gambling is a very positive first step toward a happier and healthier life for all involved.

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