Continuing on from our latest blog on the issue of problem gambling and gambling addiction, let us turn our attention to those who involuntarily suffer the consequences of this serious addiction; the family members. While all addictions come to affect the emotional wellbeing of family members, perhaps this is particularly so where gambling addiction is concerned. The secrecy that has enabled the behaviours to continue past the point of rectifiable financial damage leaves not just the gambling addict, but the entire family in a vulnerable position. Conflicting feelings may arise, as resentment builds towards your loved one, for having stolen, deceived, and manipulated, and while part of you may want shame the gambler, when a gambler is feeling hopeless the risk of suicide is high. This is why it is important to explore how you, as a family member, can make positive choices for yourself, and balance encouraging your loved one to get help, without losing yourself in the process?
Providing support and encouragement while taking care of yourself and not compromising your values, is a balancing act that is likely not possible without the support of people who have been in similar situations. The notion that love knows no limits is a beautiful and noble truism. And setting boundaries in a bid to keep yourself emotionally and financially safe is in fact an act of kindness, not just to yourself, but ultimately to your loved one as well. By giving, making allowances, and rationalizing we ultimately enable the gambling behaviour. And while it can be hard to accept, regardless of our desire, only one person can make the decision to seek help and get better; the person with the problem.
Helpful tools for family members of gambling addicts
Seek support. You might feel that you are the only person in the world with this problem. But by reaching out for support you will discover that this is far from the case. Attending self-help groups for families of gambling addicts, such as Gam-Anon, can provide you with a network and insights into how to best keep your family safe.
Set boundaries in managing money. If a loved one is serious about getting help, it might be useful for you to take over the family finances and thereby ensuring that the gambler stays accountable. This, however, does not make you accountable for micromanaging the gamblers impulse to gamble, but allows you to first and foremost gain a sense of control of your own finances.
Learn how to respond to requests for money. This sounds simple, but can prove a difficult task for people in close relationships. However, your response can mean the difference between enabling and exercising tough love.
Finally, communicating honestly with the gambler is important. If you have decided to seek therapy in order to help you deal with how the gambling addiction has affected you and your children, let your partner know.
Gambling addiction is known to have the highest mortality rate of all addictions. Unfortunately suicide can feel like the only solution to a desperate situation, partly because most problem gamblers do not seek the needed help until the situation feel hopeless. While family members cannot force their loved one into recovery, they are often what ultimately motivates sustained sobriety for the recovering addict, and everyone affected by gambling addiction deserves to get support and take care of themselves.