Gambling Addiction – Red flags for friends and family
The common signs of gambling addiction mentioned in the previous section can alert you to a loved one’s addiction.
Additional and more specific red flags that you can look for include:
- Loved ones seem to have more mood swings that begin to resemble a mood disorder such as bipolar, where they seem to be “high” some days and deeply depressed, withdrawn, or snappy other days.
- Noticing that your loved ones are neglecting bills, asking you for money frequently, or stealing from you. You may notice overdue bills in the mail or overhear calls from bill collectors. Your loved ones may also be in debt to several small loan centers, and they may even begin to steal money or other valuable items from you.
- Noticing that your loved ones are skipping school or work. This may begin as an infrequent occurrence that then become chronic. They may flunk several classes if they are in college, or get fired or have several disciplinary actions against them at work.
- You may begin to notice that the things they have told you about where they spend their time or money do not add up. Discrepancies in your loved ones’ stories will become evident the longer their addiction continues. If you confront these discrepancies, your loved ones may become angry, hostile, and aggressive, or they may turn it around on you. These may be signs that your loved one is actually hiding an addiction.
- You notice that your loved ones no longer make plans with you or keep the plans that they make with you. They may also become increasingly withdrawn when they are not gambling.
- Your loved ones spend more time online playing games that are related to gambling and become upset when you try to get them to spend less time online.
- Your loved ones seem to drink more frequently or you suspect them of abusing other substances. Gambling and substance use trigger the release of the same feel-good chemical in the brain. Your loved ones may increasingly rely on substances when they are not able to gamble.
Four tips for family members:
- Start by helping yourself. You have a right to protect yourself emotionally and financially. Don’t blame yourself for the gambler’s problems or let his or her addiction dominate your life. Ignoring your own needs can be a recipe for burnout.
- Don’t go it alone. It can feel so overwhelming coping with a loved one’s gambling addiction that it may seem easier to rationalize their requests “this one last time.” Or you might feel ashamed, feeling like you are the only one who has problems like this. Reaching out for support will make you realize that many families have struggled with this problem.
- Set boundaries in managing money. To ensure the gambler stays accountable and to prevent relapse, consider taking over the family finances. However, this does not mean you are responsible for micromanaging the problem gambler’s impulses to gamble. Your first responsibilities are to ensure that your own finances and credit are not at risk.
- Consider how you will handle requests for money. Problem gamblers often become very good at asking for money, either directly or indirectly. They may use pleading, manipulation, or even threats to get it. It takes practice to ensure you are not enabling your loved one’s gambling addiction.