You usually can’t tell from just looking at somebody that they are suffering from gambling harms.
The most extreme experience of harms is usually called addiction. It is often called the ‘hidden addiction’. Gambling harms are on a spectrum. They may be mild, moderate, serious or severe.
Individuals suffering from their own gambling and those affected by it will often feel shame. This is a result of stigma. Stigma makes anything that looks like ‘addiction’ into a mark of disgrace for moral failure. In fact, compulsive gambling behaviour is fully recognised as a mental health disorder.
Frontline workers such as doctors, debt advisers, justice staff report that it is only when they take the time to know a person that they discover that they are experiencing gambling harms. For instance, a person presenting with a debt issue or a substance harms problem may also be suffering from gambling harm which they have not disclosed initially. That is why it is suggested that frontline workers screen for gambling harms.
On average, for every person suffering severe harms from their own gambling, six other people close to them will be severly affected also. Often the harms for these ‘affected others’ are more severe than those experienced by the gambler themselves.
Each person suffering gambling harms will do so differently dependent upon many factors cross-cutting their life situation, their physical and psychological health, their relationships, their gender, degrees of deprovation, employment status, income, any involvement with the criminal justice system, education, ethnicity, religious affiliation and all the things that make them who they are – a unique individual.
As with any health related issue therefore a whole-person understanding is ideal.
In practice, some people are able to recover from gambling harms relatively quickly while for others the path is far longer and more difficult. Often, for instance, a person may face multiple issues including high debt, lack of support in relationships, unemployment, homelessness, prison and significant emotional distress and frequently co-occurring issues arising from substance dependence. Therefore a person may need support from multiple agencies so first points of contact should be able to direct to these and, ideally, oversee the course of recovery.
The ‘course of recovery’ may be long and very difficult. Even after gambling behaviours have been addressed and treatment for them ongoing, there is very often a legacy from gambling harms which may take many years to overcome so ongoing support is vital. See this 2022 research paper on Gambling harms legacies: Legacy of Gambling Harms