Gambling Addiction & Problem
Dealing with gambling cravings
Feeling the urge to gamble is normal, but that doesn’t make it any easier when you are struggling to make better choices. Remember, as you build healthier choices and a good support network, resisting cravings will be easier and easier. The following strategies can help
- Reach out for support. Call a trusted family member, meet a friend for coffee, or go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting.
- Do something else. Distract yourself with another activity, such as cleaning your house, going to the gym, or watching a movie.
- Postpone gambling. Tell yourself that you’ll wait five minutes, fifteen minutes, or an hour — however long you think you can hold out. As you wait, the urge to gamble may pass or become weak enough to resist.
- Give yourself a reality check. Visualize what will happen if you give in to the urge to gamble. Think about how you’ll feel after all your money is gone and you’ve disappointed yourself and your family again.
- Avoid Isolation. If you gamble to socialize or be around other people, try healthier ways to build a social network. Volunteer, connect with old friends, make new friends.
If you aren’t able to resist the gambling craving, don’t be too hard on yourself or use it as an excuse to give up. Overcoming a gambling addiction is a tough process. You may slip from time to time; the important thing is to learn from your mistakes and continue working towards recovery.
Helping a family member with a gambling problem
Does my loved one have a gambling problem?
If your loved one has a gambling problem, he or she might:
- Become increasingly defensive about his or her gambling. The more a problem gambler is in the hole, the more the need to defend gambling as a way to get money. Your loved one may get secretive, defensive or even blame you for the need to gamble, telling you that it is all for you and you need to trust in the “big win someday.”
- Suddenly become secretive over money and finances. Your loved one might show a new desire to control household finances, or there might increasingly be a lack of money despite the same income and expenses. Savings and assets might mysteriously dwindle, or there may be unexplained loans or cash advances.
- Become increasingly desperate for money to fund the gambling. Credit card bills may increase, or your loved one may ask friends and family for money. Jewelry or other items easily pawned for money may mysteriously disappear.
How to help with a gambling problem
Compulsive and problem gamblers often need the support of their family and friends to help them in their struggle to stop gambling. But the decision to quit has to be theirs. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is seeing the effects, you cannot make someone stop gambling.
If your family member has a gambling problem, you may have many conflicting emotions. You may try to cover up for a loved one or spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep him or her from gambling. At the same time, you might be furious at your loved one for gambling again and tired of trying to keep up the charade. The gambler may also have borrowed (or even stolen) money from you with no way to pay it back. He or she may have sold family possessions or run up huge debts on joint credit cards. When faced with the consequences of their actions, a gambler can suffer a crushing drop in self-esteem. This is one reason why there is a high rate of suicide among problem gamblers.
Tools for family members of problem gamblers:
- Start by helping yourself. You have a right to protect yourself emotionally and financially. Don’t blame yourself for the gambler’s problems. The right support can help you make positive choices for yourself, and balance encouraging your loved one to get help without losing yourself in the process.
- Don’t go it alone. It can feel so overwhelming coping with a loved one’s problem gambling that it may seem easier to rationalize their requests and problems “this one last time”. Or you might feel ashamed, feeling like you are the only one who has problems like this. Reaching out for support will make you realize that many families have struggled with this problem. Or you might consider therapy to help sort out the complicated feelings that arise from coping with a problem gambler.
- Set boundaries in managing money. If a loved one is serious about getting help for problem gambling, it may help if you take over the family finances to make sure the gambler stays accountable and to prevent relapse. However, this does not mean you are responsible for micromanaging the problem gamblers impulses to gamble. Your first responsibilities are to ensure that your own finances and credit are not at risk.
- Consider how you will handle requests for money. Problem gamblers often become very good at asking for money, either directly or indirectly. They may use pleading, manipulation or even threats and blaming to get it. It takes time and practice to learn how you will respond to these requests to ensure you are not enabling the problem gambler and keeping your own dignity intact.