Stigma (person who gambled perspective)

The Hidden Addiction

Affected others describe gambling as a hidden addiction. This is because gambling is not shown as physically or psychologically addictive despite being both of these things. Also, the signs of gambling difficulties and the harm from gambling are not visible or talked about.

Stigma contributes to people not wanting to recognise that there is a problem or not feeling like they are able to access help or speak to those around them. This means that often, affected others do not realise that their partner or family member is experiencing gambling difficulties until they are told or find out in some way.

Some affected others noticed a change in the other person’s behaviour but did not attribute this to gambling initially. Sometimes affected others feel like gambling harms come out of nowhere and are surprised by how easy it was for the other person to hide.

For many, it was only when the person who gambled reached a crisis point, such as having unmanageable debt or the other person going missing, that they found out about the gambling.


For some, the gambling behaviour of parents remained hidden during their childhood, only becoming known to them when they were older. Other problems had been talked about more openly.

When I was younger and they sat down and chatted and said that they were separating, at the time, it was mummy and daddy don’t love each other anymore. This thing is not going to impact you, etc. Then from then as I’ve grown older, I knew relatively soon that it was due to an affair, but then things would come out about him gambling.

At the end of the day, there’s a guy here who’s struggling with his mental health as well, and that his actions have never been to upset or hurt anybody. A lot of that is the reason why he’s kept a lot of things to himself, which in the long run has never been the greatest idea or it’s not helped him.


Parents say that recognising gambling issues in their children can be more challenging compared to identifying problems like alcohol or drug use, due to the hidden nature of gambling difficulties.

What I found about the gambling addiction is I did watch it, but I didn’t realize I was watching it. I’ve watched alcohol… My son on occasions he would have a lot to drink. But I’ve seen many people have a lot to drink in life and I didn’t really see him, I know he may be slightly more excessive, but to me it was different, it was visual. I’ve seen people who have potentially taken drugs and I can see them the way they are.

It’s the invisible addiction… The risk is if someone is just out there on their phone or they might just be a bit touchy, they might not want you to see what they are doing or they start telling lies about what they are doing… These are things as an affected other we keep an eye out for. They’re the sort of early triggers whereas if someone was drinking or someone was taking drugs, you could see it. You can’t with gambling addiction.

With gambling, I can drug test [son], I can get him to do an alcohol test. I can’t test him for gambling. I have to trust, when he looks me in the eye and says, “No, mum, I haven’t gambled,” or, “Yes, mum, I did a football bet.” That’s his truth because I can’t test him for it.

The way the brain is being stimulated for the average person to understand it, it is exceptionally difficult to understand. But you’ve almost got someone with an urge, a constant urge, which you cannot stop. So, there’s some people, they will possibly feel I just cannot deal with this. I’ve got no one to go and speak to, I can’t talk to… how to get out of it. And I think in some cases some people therefore do what’s almost for the average person if you would never think about suicide, do the unthinkable.


Unlike more visible addictions, gambling often remained concealed until significant harm had occurred, leaving some feeling hurt and betrayed by their partner not telling them about their gambling issues. This silence often stemmed from their partner’s shame, preventing them from disclosing their struggles.

Stigma wise, until the 23rd of February, I felt like [partner] was the only person in the world with a gambling problem. Then I got over that pretty quickly at that [GA] meeting.

He was quite ashamed but I didn’t know enough about it and I don’t think he realized that it was a problem at the time. We thought he just got carried away… I just thought it was one of them things. I was a bit shocked, a bit taken back, but I didn’t know enough about it, because obviously you hear about alcoholics and drug addicts, and there’s a lot around them. You recognize if there’s a problem, because you can physically see them doing something.

It was only more noticeable towards the end – well, when he told me, when he showed me and then I knew what he did. It’s sort of come from nowhere but who knows how long it’s actually been going on. I think the more we can tackle stigma, the less people will feel the need to hide things and get to understand things better.

I think what probably hurt most about it as much as everything else was that he felt that he had to hide things.

Some said the societal expectations surrounding masculinity can act as a barrier for men, holding them back from discussing their issues with others or asking for help, worsening the problem.

I think generalizing, obviously, but I think because guys don’t talk about their feelings and they’re just up you get, shake it off, man up, you’re the man of the house, all that jazz. I think that they’re encouraged to bottle things up and then they don’t really know how to cope with the emotions or how to talk about them.


One individual shared that their sibling’s gambling issues remained concealed within the family until the brother’s debts escalated significantly. This situation highlights how gambling difficulties can often remain a hidden problem, even among close family members, until the situation worsens to a critical point.

At first, I don’t think any of us knew because it was quite quiet, probably it was quite small. Over a few years, it got to the point where he was in debt because of it and things like that became more and more accessible, and then quite serious debt. Unbeknownst to me and my mum and dad, we didn’t speak to each other about it, but he would need to borrow bits of money off me, my mum, and dad.

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If you feel like you need support or someone to talk to about your own or someone else’s gambling, there are several organisations who can offer help, support and answer any questions you may have.

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