Australian National University researchers believe one way to reduce problem gambling is to encourage people to talk about it as freely as depression - once a taboo topic.
A study released by the university on Monday says regular players of poker machines find it difficult to identify early warning signs that they are addicted.
The researchers, after interviewing regular gamblers in Canberra, also found people are reluctant to intervene when they think someone might have a gambling problem.
The report is one of the first pieces of research that investigates people's knowledge and beliefs about gambling participation and problem gambling.
It was commissioned by the ACT Gambling and Racing Commission and comes as the federal government is moving towards a trial in the territory of limits on gambling on poker machines.
The ANU researchers surveyed 25 adults who play electronic gambling machines at least once a week.
The report's author, Annie Carroll, of the centre for gambling research in the ANU college of arts and social sciences, said the study pointed to the need for change.
''What we are really interested in is finding ways that people can identify early that maybe they're developing problems, so they can go and get some help for that before their life falls apart,'' Dr Carroll said.
''We have found that most people don't actually seek help until their life has fallen apart and they're often thinking about suicide and they've lost their family.
''We have to find ways to inform the public to understand responsible gambling and problem gambling and get people used to talking about gambling and encourage people to talk about it, much the same way as with depression.
''Just the identification doesn't necessarily mean a person will get help, so the other important aspect is that people have to know what services are available and feel confident about getting help.
''Another main finding of the report is that everyone we spoke to at some time had known someone with a gambling problem.
''Out of the 25 we spoke to, only two had ever intervened when someone had a gambling problem and, in both cases, those people were relatives.
''People don't feel comfortable talking to people about their gambling problems.
''We encourage people who are experiencing problems to contact Mission Australia, who provide a specialist free gambling problem service in the ACT.''
ACT Gambling and Racing Commission chief executive Greg Jones said the study's findings would help the commission target its messages to people who may need some help or guidance in controlling their level of gambling expenditure.
''We understand from the study that people are reluctant to intervene,'' he said. ''The commission urges anyone experiencing problems with their gambling, or their family and friends, to seek help.
''Free help is available and we want to foster open conversations on this difficult topic.''
Clubs ACT chief executive Jeff House said it was known that two challenges stand in the way of the way of reducing problem gambling.
''That is creating an atmosphere where players themselves can feel encouraged to seek help and where venues feel encouraged to intervene where help is required,'' he said.