People Affected by Problem Gamblers
How are Families Affected?
Discussing a loved one's Addiction to Gambling
The secretive nature of addiction and the social stigma that comes with it can make the topic a difficult one to discuss. These tips and tools may help facilitate the process:
• Educate yourself. Find out as much as you can about gambling addiction, symptoms, and available treatments.
• Be prepared. Choose the right time (e.g. after a gambling spree) and provide objective evidence that there is a problem (e.g. unpaid bills, missed work, etc.).
• Avoid blame. When broaching the subject, avoid accusatory statements that put the individual down. Also, refrain from accepting responsibility for the problem should your loved one attempt to project blame onto you. This is a common defense mechanism for people dealing with addiction.
• Stay supportive. Remain calm and honor the person's struggle. Acknowledge his or her efforts and express your care and concern.
• Maintain healthy boundaries. Say no when you need to and refrain from providing monetary support when possible. Helping the person financially will only contribute to the maintenance of the problematic behaviors.
• Create a network. Utilize family and friends, support groups, and counseling for assistance. Connect with appropriate resources to protect yourself and loved ones from dangerous or abusive situations.
• Be open to professional help. Professional counseling can make a huge difference both for the helper and the person addicted. There are resources available through our office that can provide help even when there is limited ability to pay, or there is no insurance. Don’t let lack of money stop you from getting the help your family needs.
A few more thoughts:
Family members, friends, and others who are seeking to help a gambler may benefit from counseling sessions as well. I typically suggest that the gamblers I treat bring their spouses/family members into treatment at least a few times.
MOTIVATION is the key and the type of intervention that is attempted needs to match the level of the motivation of the gambler. If the Gambler is very unmotivated and you would like, it would be probably be helpful for you to get help. I can provide a free consultation to discuss options.
Central issues that some family members need help with include: trust/honesty; financial protection; physical safety in some cases; intimacy issues; co-dependency.
I recommend that ALL spouses and parents of gamblers look into Gam-Anon, a program that links family members of gamblers together to discuss the problem. Please visit the GA website and follow the link to Gam-anon for further assistance. www.gamblersanonymous.org
You can purchase some really good literature from the Gam-anon website as well, I strongly suggest reading this material fully.
If there are not any Gam-Anon meetings in your area, or you would like to try another approach, consider attending an Al-anon meeting. These are very helpful free meetings and you can find the number by calling your telephone directory.
I strongly recommend the book: Behind the 8-ball, by Linda Berman for spouses of gamblers. This very helpful book can be purchased used from www.amazon.com, or at www.ebay.com. It is geared towards the wife of a male gambler more than parents of a gambler. I also suggest another book Losing Your Shirt - Second Edition: Recovery for Compulsive Gamblers and Their Families by Mary Heineman. Try to look for that later editions of these books as they have been updated. Losing your shirt does not offer as many helpful suggestions but is good at helping with the more emotional aspects of this disorder.
Family members of Pathological gamblers are in as much need of help as the gambler. It is important to not deny this need or minimize it. Critical decisions must be made about the viability of a marriage if a gambler is not willing to seek help. Equally difficult considerations must be faced with a child who is having gambling problems. In my work with family members there is often a tremendous amount of neglect, hurt and pain that has occurred. "He/she is not the person I married.... he/she is ok when they are not gambling... they keep promising to quit but it never lasts..." these are some of the common things I hear. Also, the tremendous amount of lying is often very damaging. Some of the deceptions are so obvious that it is almost laughable, other times the deceptions are so devious that the spouse barely knows if the gambler is really gambling or not. Again, if the spouse/partner/child is able to admit that there is a problem then things are at least going to be easier at the outset.
Gamblers show an a amazing level of confidence. " I am sure that I will never gamble again" they readily promise after a big loss or being caught. The same confidence that allows them to place a huge wager, and often helps them to be confident successful business people, contributes to a false sense of how easy it would be to quit gambling and eventually leads them back to the thought that they can control the behavior in the future.
Sometimes a family member will have some degree of hidden guilt that acts as an excuse for continuing to tolerate the addiction. Issues of co-dependency must be examined as well (the book codependent no more is excellent for an understanding of this concept). There is not a magic solution to help family members, but under the care of a therapist they can often sort out the right direction for them regardless of whether the gambler stops or not.
Sometimes it is appropriate for the spouse to become more active in managing the family's finances, but not always. It might be good for the spouse to run a credit report to see what is going on. https://www.annualcreditreport.com
This is a government authorized website that will provide FREE credit reports once a year. A spouse might want to consider paying for monthly reports to see if credit cards are being taken out. There are three credit agencies and each one can give a FREE report from this website, you will need to request each one individually.
Also, a credit freeze can lock up a person's credit history so that no lender can access their credit report, and without being able to access the credit report they can not issue new credit cards. This is different than a fraud alert, it is much stronger. A request has to be filed with each of the three agencies, it will not help to just do one of them. There is a $10 dollar fee for each one, or a total of $30 dollars. There is an additional 10 dollar cost to unfreeze each one. This website can provide additional information: www.privacyprotection.ca.gov
Another way to stop the credit cards is at www.optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688.
Sometimes a gambler will take out a second or additional mortgage or home equity loan without the spouse knowing so you might want to check into this as well.
Putting the gambler on an allowance and controlling the money can create tremendous strain on both parties, and while this is a very important option, it needs a lot of team work to make it work, it is important that all critical household expenses are paid prior to paying off gambling debt, GA pressure relief can help families with this process.
The most common problem is the loss of money. Savings, property or belongings may suddenly be lost. This kind of money crisis makes the family feel scared, angry and betrayed.
Emotional problems and isolation
Gambling problems cause strong feelings. Family members may feel ashamed, hurt, afraid, angry, confused and distrustful. These feelings make it harder to solve problems. The person who gambles may even deny that there is a problem.
Isolation is another problem:
• Many partners do not want to be emotionally or physically close with the person who has hurt them.
• Many people affected by gambling problems avoid other people, because they feel ashamed. This makes it hard to get love and support.
• Friendships may end because of unpaid debts.
Physical and mental health
The stress of gambling problems sometimes causes health problems, for both the person who gambles and the family. This can include anxiety, depression and stress-related problems such as poor sleep, ulcers, bowel problems, headaches and muscle pains.
Many families under stress have trouble coping. One member may try to keep things in control by taking on more tasks. This can lead to burnout. Family members often focus on the person with gambling problems, and forget to take care of themselves or to have fun.
Physical and Emotional Abuse
Family violence is more common when families are in crisis. Gambling problems can lead to physical or emotional abuse of a partner, elder parent or child. Children may be hurt due to pent-up anger. If this is happening in your family, get help right away. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911.
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