Joe was 45 years old when he noticed something odd in his father’s behavior. His father, Alex, immigrated to the United States in his late 20s. Alex was a hard-working, responsible supervisor of others with an exceptional work ethic himself. He retired two years prior to death of his wife and was greatly missed at work. Joe started counseling with me a few months ago. He felt overwhelmed by his father’s gambling problem, and wanted to know how he could provide gambling addiction help. Although Alex had played cards casually all his life, from the time he lost his wife, he started going to casinos on a regular basis.
At first, Joe was happy to see his father hanging out with his friends. However, after few months, he noticed his father’s obsession with gambling had significantly increased. Joe witnessed the rapid progression of Alex’s addiction, made clear by his massive credit card debt and loss of the family home.
It was devastating for Joe to see his father throwing away the remainder of his savings, especially when he saw him struggling to provide for his basic needs. Joe lent him money several times for food and rent, but he soon realized that his father was gambling away all the money he gave him.
Unfortunately, Alex’s story is not exceptional. In my practice, I work with many intelligent adults that have not only lost their entire life savings to casinos but have also lied, stolen, and missed out on their own lives in order to feed their destructive habits.
Recent studies have shown that pathological gambling is a prevalent illness throughout the world. It is estimated that around two percent of the population of the average country struggle with this illness Pathological gambling can do more than ruin the life of the gambling addict: it can do the same to the lives of people around him or her. A study has shown that for every individual with a gambling addiction, the lives of 8 to 10 people around them, including friends, family and coworkers, will be negatively impacted
It might be tricky to talk to your loved one about his or her gambling problem. People often get defensive. You might even be blamed for the addiction. It is important to approach this thoughtfully.
Here are some tips on how to protect your own sanity while helping an addict with their gambling problem.
Use of I Statements
As you may already have experienced, advising an addict to “just stop” will not work. In most situations this is even counterproductive! If you don’t approach the topic with some forethought, the addict may become defensive and perceive you as aggressive and deceptive.
It is important to use what are called “I statements.” I statements are a popular interpersonal technique used to facilitate difficult conversations. An I statement focuses on you and your feelings and perspectives, not those of the addict.
In order to use this technique effectively, you start by sharing with the person how you feel about the situation. Do not start with blaming! This will allow them to see the situation from your perspective. Throughout the conversation, maintain an open, and supportive attitude. Acknowledge their good qualities and their past efforts to stop the behavior.
Learn to Say No When They Ask for Money
People with gambling addiction are desperate to fund their gambling habits. They often ask their friends, families, and acquaintances for money. It can be hard to say no, especially if you notice that they are struggling to get their basic needs met.
Just as happened with Alex, in most cases even if you give money to addicts they will not use it for their basic necessities. If you are concerned about them, you can buy them food and clothing instead of lending them money. Be aware that, as a natural progression of their disease, they may end up engaging in illegal activities such as theft or fraud. You are not able to protect them long term, and it is important for them to experience the consequences of their behavior.
Research Resources in Your Area
Gambling addiction is a devastating but treatable condition. Thousands of addicts receive treatment and recover each year. The treatment of choice is a combination of individual and group therapy and in some cases medication. An addict will not change his or her behavior unless she or he wants it, but you can help their recovery by finding the professionals in your area that can support them when they are ready.
Dr. Nazanin Moali, Ph.D is a clinical psychologist. She is passionate about working with individuals and families struggling with gambling addiction. She owns the Oasis 2 Care practice in Torrance, California.