A Friend Struggling With Gambling

Seth says a friend of his has a gambling problem. He's tried recommending some books, but Seth doesn't know how to approach the situation. Dave suggests taking a bold approach with compassion.

QUESTION: Seth in Baton Rouge says a friend of his has a gambling problem, and Seth is worried it’s going to plague him his whole life if he doesn’t get control of it. He’s tried recommending some books, but at this point, Seth doesn’t know how to approach the situation. Dave suggests taking a bold approach with compassion.

ANSWER: If this is a close-enough friend, and you see that he’s got a gun to his head, you would scream, “Don’t shoot!” even if it hurt his feelings. If this is a close-enough friend, and he was driving at 80 miles an hour down a highway where the bridge was out, you would scream, “Don’t go off the cliff! Slow down! Stop! Turn around!” That would be compassionate in both cases even though you screamed and made him uncomfortable. To avoid this is not compassion. To directly interfere is compassion.

I guess I would start with just a real serious one-on-one conversation—no ambient noise, not in a restaurant, no television on, no other things going on. We’re not heading to a party. You have a real serious concern, and you care enough about him to hurt his feelings for his own good, and he’s in the land of stupid. He’s about to screw up his life forever.

If you’re not a good- enough friend to stop him from hurting himself, then you’re not a good-enough friend to be friends the rest of your lives. You’re just an acquaintance. You don’t have an obligation with acquaintances to interfere in their lives. But with close friends and people you care deeply about, you do have that obligation.

I think the other thing I would do is go on some gambling websites and read. Learn a little bit about what he’s facing and how he’s feeling. Just talk to him about it as a friend. You’re not a mental health professional doing an intervention here. You’re not a counselor. You’re not a pastor. You’re just a friend telling him he’s doing something stupid and about to really hurt himself and put himself in a mess.