Gambling-related problems can lead to financial, social, emotional, occupational, and physical harms. These harms can impact more than just the gambler, causing a ripple effect throughout their social network. In particular, the consequences of problem gambling can impact the gambler’s family, intimate partners, and close friends. As a provider, it is important to be aware of what your clients might experience when they have a loved one experiencing gambling-related problems.
- Gambling-related problems can lead to conflict among the family including: heightened anger, low levels of clear communication and support, lack of direct expressions of feeling, isolation and disengagement in social and recreational activities, and decreased independence.
- Financial consequences of gambling might include a loss of money, property, savings, or belongings that could put the family into a financial crisis or hardship, including homelessness.
- It is common for family members and loved ones of an individual with gambling problems to feel anger, betrayal, or fear. Increased stress and worry can lead to physical and mental health problems for the gambler’s loved ones, including anxiety and depression.
- Gambling problems have been associated with intimate partner violence and family violence.
- Children of a parent with gambling problems are at higher risk of developing gambling-related difficulties later in life.
Provide Hope and Reassurance
Loved ones of an individual experiencing gambling problems might experience negative emotions, such as anger, fear, confusion, guilt, and hopelessness. As a clinician, you can provide them a message of hope and reassurance.
- Let the individual know that they did not create this situation. Remind them that they did not cause their loved one’s gambling-related problems.
- Reassure the individual that complicated feelings about their loved one’s gambling-related problems are common.
- Remind the individual that many others have been through similar experiences and have recovered from gambling problems to lead happier lives.
- If their loved one has relapsed recently, remind them that recovery is an ongoing process and relapse is a normal part of this journey.
- Listen carefully and give them an opportunity to talk about how their loved one’s gambling-related problems have impacted them.
Encourage Social Support and Connection with Healthy Others
Social support can help individuals deal with their emotions and navigate through their loved one’s gambling-related problems.
- The individual might benefit from connecting with others who have similar experiences. This can help them feel heard and understood. Gam-Anon is a community of mutual support groups for loved ones of individuals experiencing difficulties with gambling and obstacles with recovery.
- Massachusetts residents can call the Massachusetts Problem Gambling Helpline at (800) 327-5050 or visit their website to find local support, resources, and information for themselves or their loved one experiencing gambling-related problems: gambling.helplinema.org/pg-search
- United States residents can call the National Problem Gambling Helpline at (800) 522-4700 or visit their website to find local support, resources, and information for themselves or their loved one experiencing gambling-related problems: ncpgambling.org/help-treatment/help-by-state/
- Recommend the individual identify people that they trust, such as a clinician, friend from Gam-Anon, family or friends, who they would feel comfortable talking to about their situation. Encourage the individual to reach out to these trusted persons for support when they are feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
Promote Self Care
When dealing with a loved one’s addiction, it can be easy to put their needs above your own. Loved ones of the individual with gambling problems might need help and encouragement taking care of themselves. As a healthcare provider, you can remind them to engage in self care. Examples of self care include:
- Practice relaxation skills such as meditation and mindfulness.
- Identify and manage emotions through self-reflection or journaling.
- Avoid isolation by seeking out family, friends, or social support groups and recovery networks.
- Spend time doing enjoyable things, such as a hobby.
- Practice gratitude by reminding yourself about the things for which you are grateful.
- Take time to exercise regularly: a 20-minute walk can have significant benefits.
- Focus on positivity and positive self-talk.
Suggest They Check Their Finances
Gambling problems can lead to financial crises and hardship for family members and loved ones who share finances with the person experiencing problem gambling. Individuals with gambling problems often need resources to begin managing their finances. A plan for financial assets is useful to avoid financial losses.
- Personal Financial Strategies for the Loved Ones of Problem Gamblers is an important booklet for those whose finances might have been impacted by someone else’s gambling.
- MyFinancialLifeMA.org can help people learn about managing credit and debt, how to budget and save, and more.
Provide Guidance about Supporting Their Loved One
The family members and friends might wonder how they can best support their loved one experiencing problem gambling. There are some dos and don’ts that you can recommend they follow.
- Only talk to your loved one about your concerns with their gambling – if you feel ready. This discussion should take place in a private location where neither the loved one or the gambler are under the influence of psychoactive substances or while gambling. Be prepared to share specific examples of behaviors that have you concerned and why.
- Do not blame, attack, or insult the individual experiencing gambling problems. Despite the anger you might feel, do not heighten your loved one’s feelings of anger or denial about having a problem. Remember, the gambler is not responsible for developing a gambling problem; they are responsible, however, for their recovery. Approach your loved one with compassion and understanding.
- Focus on how you can best help your loved one. Ask them about their needs. Offer to be there to listen to them if they want to talk to you or support them as they look for help.
- Come to the conversation with referral and treatment options and other self-help resources or books for your loved one. Do not be discouraged if they are not ready to seek help. However, do encourage them to participate in a recovery program despite their doubts.
Encourage Them To Learn More
The loved ones of an individual experiencing problem gambling might have questions, such as “how can gambling become an addiction?”. Encourage them to be informed and learn more about problem gambling through up-to-date resources and information. The Division on Addiction’s website is a good place to direct loved ones to for free information, educational materials, and other resources about problem gambling and other expressions of addiction.