Problem Gambling in the Family
The following is a brief description of how compulsive gambling impacts the family and what you can do about it. This information can be gone into much more depth and detail with a qualified treatment provider whom you can meet with by calling the RGANM helpline listed below.
When compulsive gambling problems are present in a family it can cause strong feelings. Family members may feel angry, confused, hurt, afraid, and often distrustful of the compulsive gambler. These feelings make it harder to solve problems. The compulsive gambler may even deny that there is a problem. In addition the partners of compulsive gamblers lose the feeling of wanting to be emotionally or physically close with the person who has hurt them. Members of the family may feel and be distant as well. People affected by gambling problems often avoid people they were previously connected with, because they feel ashamed. Family relationships may become estranged and friendships may end because of unpaid debts related to problem gambling. This makes it hard to get love and support.
The stress of middle to late stage compulsive gambling often causes health problems, for both the person who gambles compulsively and their family. This can include stress-related problems such as poor sleep, ulcers, bowel problems, headaches and muscle pains, heart issues, and stroke.
Many families under stress have trouble coping. One family member may try to keep things in control by taking on more tasks which can lead to undue stress and to burnout. Anxiety, depression, and anger are commonplace. Loving and well-intended family members often focus on the person with the gambling problem, and forget to take care of themselves.
The most common issue in families where there is a compulsive gambling problem is the loss of money. Credit rating, savings, property loss and loss of precious belongings commonly occur which can be devastating to family well-being. These kinds of money crises cause fear, anger and feelings of betrayal in the family.
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. Otherwise, please contact the RGANM Helpline.
When a parent or caregiver has a gambling problem, children are often affected; however, each child deals differently with the impacts of the problem. Some children can feel forgotten, depressed and angry. They may believe they caused the problem and that, if they are “good,” the problem will stop. Some children take care of younger brothers or sisters, or try to support their parent. For children, this responsibility is too much and causes children undo stress. Children may also believe they must take sides between their parents. They may stop trusting a parent who makes promises he or she doesn’t keep.
Unable to express their feelings directly, children may begin acting out their anger or begin having trouble at school. Some children may try to draw attention away from the parent with the gambling problem, by:
- Using alcohol or other drugs
- Not doing homework or ditching school
- Being oppositional or deliberately breaking rules
It is important to help children understand that the family’s problems are not their fault. Children need to return to a safe and balanced home life and a normal childhood. Family or individual counseling can help children deal with these changes.
Setting Boundaries with Compulsive Gamblers
Compulsive Gamblers like people struggling with other addictions must have boundaries set with them by their partners and family members if there is to be any sense of safety for the family. This does not have to be done in a mean or angry way but it does need to be well thought out. Without firm boundaries the compulsive gambler will continue to manifest financial and emotional hardship on the whole family. Families are usually the ones that suffer the most by doing without, obtaining extra jobs or working overtime, just to cover some of the debt incurred by a compulsive gambling family member. The following is a list of boundaries to consider setting. We encourage you to go over them with a counselor for consideration.
- Compulsive Gamblers should not be bailed out of financial crisis.
- Insist that they enter treatment and that any financial help will be addressed in treatment as a family issue.
- The compulsive gambler must be honest about all the debts they have incurred.
- Discuss Self - Exclusion from all casinos as an option. This is described on this website as well.
- 5. Insist that the compulsive gambler prove their trustworthiness. This begins with steps 1-4 above and is crucial to rebuilding the relationship back to where it was before it was broken.
Dealing with Anger
When compulsive gambling is in the family anger and confusion is a normal and natural response. It is felt by the compulsive gambler, their partner, and everyone around them, including their children. When there is a gambling problem in the family, everyone feels the pain, no matter how strong or together they may be. Partners may feel angry and resentful or overly responsible for the gambling partner’s behavior. Children may act out or become withdrawn, not understanding what is happening. Stress in the home can create increased risk for domestic violence and problem gamblers are more likely to become separated or divorced.
The good news is that free treatment resources are available through the RGANM Helpline to help the compulsive gambler, partner and family members who are being affected by a loved one’s gambling problem.
Other sources of support for families and partners include:
- Gam-Anon, a free support group specifically for the friends and loved ones of problem gamblers.
- Talking with others who are experiencing similar concerns can help family members better understand the gambling disorder, and develop healthy coping and problem solving skills.
- Free expert professional counseling is also available for the compulsive gambler and their spouse.
Communication tips for families of Compulsive Gamblers
- Focus on the specific ways that their gambling behavior affects you. Be direct and use “I” statements to share facts and feelings. For example: “I feel hurt when you don’t come home.” “I’m angry when we don’t have money to pay our bills.” “I’m so anxious about our financial situation.”
- Breathe and try to keep calm. Try not to judge or blame.
- Let your loved one know you are getting information and support for yourself.
- Don’t make threats, but do let the person know what you will have to do if they don’t go get help. Say this only if you are prepared to follow through.
- Provide the RGANM helpline resource to them.
- Try to be patient. Know that they may not admit to the problem, nor seek help right away.
How family members can get help without revealing their identity
When a person calls the RGANM help-line, though we take down your contact information we do not share your identity with anyone. All information is held in strict confidence. This is true when you go for counseling sessions. The services are also 100% confidential.