How to help a loved one with a gambling problem

Have you been affected by someone’s gambling? Are you stressed about a loved one who is gambling?

Gambling is a problem if it affects the person negatively: at work, in personal relationships, with money, or their moods. People who have problems as a result of their gambling often experience financial hardships – their employment and personal relationships may suffer and they may use alcohol to cope. Their behavior may be erratic, inconsistent or their actions might not match their words. They often begin to disengage from those close to them, become preoccupied with gambling, get more secretive and display mood swings.

When a person engages in problematic gambling, it affects the whole family. Some of the most common effects of someone’s gambling are relationship problems, conflicts in the family, and financial and emotional issues.

Family members and loved ones of someone with a gambling problem can feel angry, hurt and scared. They may have trouble sleeping, lose their appetite, fight with their loved one and become stressed at having to pay bills or manage finances. They may feel exhausted, burned out, anxious or out of control. They can experience headaches, stomach problems, insomnia and other negative health effects. Very often family members of a person who gambles focus so much on the person with the gambling problem that they forget to take care of themselves, leading to worse health problems.

Family members often cope by trying to get their loved one to stop or cut down the gambling. They want them to realize the pain and harm that gambling is causing the family. They do their best to keep the family going only to find that nothing is getting better and their stress is getting worse. Family members often become isolated as no one seems to understand what they are going through.

If you experience any of these difficulties as a result of living with a person who gambles, you are not alone. Here are some of the steps you can take to cope and heal:

Reach out to someone who understands what you are going through.

Problem gambling is often not understood by people in the extended family or wider community. Families can benefit from contacting a counselor who is specifically trained to address problem gambling and understands what you are going through. Counselors provide confidential support to help you comprehend the anger and other feelings, and how to handle these in a healthy way. A counselor can more neutrally explain how your loved one might be feeling and how gambling addiction affects individuals and their families. You can learn how best to help someone with a gambling problem and encourage and support non-gambling, recovery behaviors. They will work with you to address the person in your life who is gambling, with compassion and firm boundaries. Counselors can work with you to improve communication in the family and repair broken relationships. They help you to set goals, and support you to improve coping skills and the well-being of your family and yourself.

Protect yourself financially

A counselor can also help you look at your financial situation and make a plan to protect mortgages, loans, assets, investments and your family’s money from the person who is gambling. This may involve creating a family budget together with your loved one, or asking them to remove their name from joint credit cards. These and other actions can be explored together with support from a counselor who specializes in problem gambling.

Practice self-care

This includes continuing to explore what is positive in your life. It may feel selfish or uncomfortable at first, but it is important to focus on your spiritual, physical and emotional well-being. What are the activities that relieve your distress and even bring you joy? Sign up for an online yoga class or take time to walk in nature. Make plans with friends to have a socially distanced or online meet. Are you sleeping and eating at regular times? What exercise can you add to your routine? What activities are fun or help you to relax? Are you speaking with friends or spiritual advisors? Focus on the positive aspects of your family life and continue to put effort into the strengths that exist in your family.

Living with a person who gambles problematically is stressful and impacts the whole family. But families do recover and do heal. By seeking support for yourself, you can take steps to minimize financial harm, learn how to help the person who is gambling, and improve your mental, physical and emotional well-being. There is help and there is hope.

Kindbridge offers counseling and mental health support for both gamblers, and their loved ones and families. If you are seeking support, fill in an inquiry form on our get started page.

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