Living with a Compulsive Gambler – Tips for Family

The signs are there. Maybe too much money disappears from the bank account whenever your husband visits a gambling site. Or perhaps your gambling-addicted daughter is constantly badgering other family members for loans. If it’s clear that problem gambling is destroying the life of someone you love, it’s time to take action.

Have the Talk

There’s no doubt about it—this is not an easy conversation to have. But if you want to help someone you love, it’s something you need to bring up now rather than later. Compulsive gambling, like other addictions, is a progressive, biologically-based condition that does not get better on its own. Research also suggests that gambling addicts have a higher rate of suicide than people wrestling with other addictions. So how do you start the conversation that helps them find recovery?

  • Choose an appropriate time and place.  Mid-argument is not the best time to convince a gambling-addicted person to get help. Have the talk in a private place, away from children or distractions. Don’t attempt to engage the person when you’re very angry or if you don’t have enough time for a real conversation.
  • Don’t get preach-y. You’re hurting right now, so it can be hard to separate your own very real need to express frustration from the need to help your loved one. For a better chance of success, stay away from you do this…, you never…, or you always… accusations that put him or her on defense. Stick to “I statements that share your perspective: I notice…, I’m worried…, I’m scared…, etc.
  • Be specific. Use detailed statements to show exactly how their excessive play impacts them and the family. You might say, for instance, “I’m worried so much money has been gambled away that we won’t be able to pay next month’s mortgage.”
  • Give them the chance to express their feelings. This is a conversation, so provide the opportunity for your loved one to share their thoughts. Listen in a non-judgmental way.

Take Care of Yourself

  • Safeguard yourself and children. You and your family have the right to live in a safe environment. If compulsive gambling causes a loved one to harm or neglect you, your children, or other family members, take immediate action to find safety.
  • Safeguard your money. From raiding a child’s college fund to pawning precious heirlooms, a person living with addiction may be compelled to steal from family. Take immediate steps to protect your financial well-being by separating joint accounts, changing PINs, and moving valuables. For more advice, read Living with a Problem Gambler – Tips for Protecting Your Finances.
  • Be patient. Compulsive gambling is a condition driven by a gambler’s uncontrollable urges. You cannot make him or her stop—or even acknowledge there’s a problem. It may take time for your loved one to recognize they need help. Keep trying. You and your family deserve to live a life free from the impact of addiction.
  • Be supportive. Problem gambling damages relationships, and, ultimately, it will be up to you to decide if you’ll stay or go. Regardless of whether the relationship continues, stay supportive and positive about his or her efforts to get help for compulsive gambling.
  • Find help for yourself. This addiction is already affecting your life in profound ways. You may feel stressed, anxious, or alone. A support group like Gam-Anon will help you connect to a network of people struggling with gambling addictions in their own families.

You don’t need to walk this path alone. Compass Mark offers guidance for Lancaster- and Lebanon-area spouses, parents, family members, and others living with a loved one’s compulsive gambling. Our experienced referral team will share free, non-judgmental, and confidential help. Call us at (717) 299-2831 or use our easy online Get Help form.

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