Coping with a Loved One’s Problem

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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 must be theirs. As much as you may wish it was possible, you cannot force someone to stop gambling against their will.1

If you have a loved one with a gambling problem, you are likely experiencing many strong – and possibly conflicting – emotions. You could be trying to cover up their gambling while trying to keep them from gambling more. You might be angry at them, depressed about the debt they have run up and afraid that they won’t stop. You may also be worried that the gambler will [continue] to borrow or steal money or sell off the family’s assets. And you may be feeling lonely, isolated or helpless.1

Living and coping with a loved one’s gambling can be a difficult and scary thing, and your first responsibility is to keep yourself mentally and physically well.

Get informed
If you think your loved one might have a problem, try to learn what you can about gambling addiction, including its warning signs, negative impacts, and options for help and recovery in the community. This way, if your loved one does want help, you can help them find help.

If possible, speak to someone about the problem like a counselor, teacher, doctor, or parent. You don’t need to reveal who the gambler is, but you do need to talk about the problem, get some support, and generate a plan of action.2

Don’t hide the problem
The loved ones of a problem gambler often think that they’re helping by making excuses for the individual, lending them money, or covering up their behavior. In reality, all that they’re doing is allowing the problem to continue.

Rather than hide it, friends and family need to acknowledge the problem by identifying it and naming it clearly. This may be harder than giving into the person’s demands or believing their lies but, in the long run, it gives the gambler no choice but to face the problem head-on.

Friends and family can tell the gambler that they will be there for them and will support them in their efforts to get professional help, but they should leave the responsibility for gambling and its negative consequences to the individual. 2

Keep the lines of communication open
It is important to talk with the person gambling in a way that encourages good communication. Tips for a successful approach are: 3

  • Discuss the matter in private, away from distractions and judgment, and ensure you will have enough time to talk. Do not have the conversation when either of you is  feeling tired or upset.3
    • Listen in a non-judgmental manner that is free from criticism.3
    • Ask them for their perspective and allow them to tell their story.3
    • Tell the gambler how their behavior is affecting others, including you, but don’t attack them.
      • Use statements about how the person’s behavior makes you feel and the reasons for this. For example, “I’m worried because you seem distant and you are coming home late at night.” 3
      • Avoid universal labeling statements such as, “You are out of control.” This can make the person feel defensive and lead to conflict. Instead, be specific about the person’s behavior and the impact it has on you. For example, “I’m really upset and stressed about not having enough money to pay for bills because the money was spent on gambling.”3
      • Don’t make them the problem –focus on the impact of their behavior
      • When the gambler is ready to seek help, give them the number to the problem gambling helpline (1-800-GAMBLER). If the person is afraid to go on their own, consider offering to go with them  – and be prepared to follow through if you make the offer!2

Remember that breaking an addiction is a very difficult process, and change takes time, hard work and commitment. It may take several tries before the gambler is able to successfully stop gambling.2

Try to support the gambler in making changes for the better. Recognize and acknowledge any positive steps they’ve made as they work through their problem, and give praise when they’ve successfully achieved their goals. Talk to them about how their recovery is progressing and ask how you can help.2

Key points to remember
No matter what you say or do, ultimately the only person who can stop gambling is the gambler himself or herself. If controlling gambling was easy for the gambler, then it would not have become a problem.3 Here are some key points to remember:

  • You cannot force someone stop gambling or to acknowledge that their gambling is a problem.
  • You can inform the gambler of the negative impact that their gambling is having on you
  • You are not to blame for their behavior
  • The gambling is the problem, not the person.

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