Impact on Families

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Gambling problems can remain hidden for a long time, so many families are shocked when they learn how much money has been lost. Some relationships do not survive a gambling problem, while other families struggle through difficulties and work to grow stronger together.

People can and do recover from gambling addiction, but it is a process that takes time and patience. Avoid making important decisions about your relationship while you are under stress – take time to think things through, and consider the feelings and needs of the whole family. Counseling or therapy can help you explore your options and determine what is best for you and your family.1

When you are living through a loved one’s gambling problem, it can be devastating and may throw you into emotional turmoil. That is normal. Some of the many different ways you may act with or around the gambler are:

  • Desire to be perfect or “pick up the slack”
  • Need to keep everyone happy / show them that they are not the cause of the problems
  • Rebellion, to draw negative attention away from the gambler.
  • Apathy, withdrawal or isolation
  • Try to make them feel guilt or shame
  • Defensive, making apologies to family and friends or employee
  • Controlling, trying to physically or emotionally set limits on the gambler
  • Blaming them2

These reactions are perfectly normal; however, be aware that they can enables the gambler or results in them hiding the problem.

As you try to sort out your reactions, begin by thinking about the effect another person’s gambling is having on your life is a good place to start in terms of managing the impact. And remember, help is available for family members and others who are close to a problem gambler!

Many of the same problems are experienced by both the gambler and the family, including:

  • Loss of money, savings, property or belongings 1
  • Feelings of hurt, shame, anger, fear, confusion or mistrust.1
  • Isolation or loss of intimacy
  • Loss of friendships due to unpaid debts or feelings of betrayal.1
  • Anxiety, depression or thoughts of suicide
  • Stress-related physical problems (headaches, muscle pains, poor sleep, ulcers, bowel problems, etc.)
  • Burnout caused by one person trying to manage the entire problem alone

The fallout from gambling problems can also lead to severe depression. Some signs that you may be experiencing depression include:

  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Feelings of anger
  • Feelings of sadness or irritation
  • Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness or despair
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Changes to sleeping patterns including irregularity, more or less sleep
  • Increase or decrease in appetite; weight loss or weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things; your thoughts seem “slower”
  • Fixation on guilt or other feelings (i.e. you can’t stop thinking about them, over and over)
  • Loss of interest in sex
  • You are tired, slow or heavy
  • You are restless or jumpy.

If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, speak to your family doctor or other health care professional. Be sure to tell them about the gambling problem too.1

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