Last week, my blog focused on distraction as the path of addiction. This week I am continuing in that vein with guest blogger, Chloe Pearson,
who has some tips for those of us with a loved one addicted to gambling. Her tips are applicable to any addictive behaviour, and since most of us are either addicted or living/working with an addict, they’re worth knowing.
Gambling addiction is a very real problem that affects many people in Canada and the U.S. Furthermore, the American Psychiatric Association diagnoses compulsive gambling as a treatable mental disorder. It can be as devastating as drug or alcohol addiction, but with many more difficult-to-recognize symptoms. Drug and alcohol abuse are less easily hidden while gambling can be done privately, in the shadows, away from the eyes of family members and friends.
Although legalized gambling is a truly controversial topic, casinos aren’t the only place a person can make a wager. Horse and dog tracks, boxing matches, football games, and other sports events are all big money makers for professional gamblers, which means there’s also the potential to lose big. With most addictions, the catalyst can be taken out of the situation in order for the person to recover. However with gambling, the individual often keeps going as long as there are credit cards to max out or friends to borrow from, digging a deeper and deeper hole. This can lead to depression, shame, a sense of hopelessness and, often, suicidal thoughts.
Though the link between gambling addiction and suicide is extremely difficult to study, it is a fact that those who suffer with this problem often turn to suicide as a way out. Far from being a selfish act, they are likely thinking of a way to end their debts and save their families from the harsh realities of their actions.
If you have a loved one with a gambling problem, here are some steps you can take to help them find a way out, to find hope instead of stress and shame.
Let them know you’re there for them.
Without interrupting or judging, allow them to talk about their problems — from beginning to end so you can know the scope of their debt. It’s important for you not to introduce shame into the conversation. Very likely they already feel ashamed. Simply listen and let them know you understand the importance of their problem. Often just having someone to talk with is a huge relief because many compulsive gamblers keep what they’re doing a secret.
Support them in disclosing their addiction.
One of the first steps in recovery is to ask for help, but the next is to come clean. Support your loved one in telling family or close friends what’s going on and why a strong support system is needed. Getting “the secret” off their chest is a huge step toward starting over.
Of course, it will probably not be easy and that is to be expected. Compulsive gambling can lead a person to spend money that wasn’t theirs to begin with — a child’s college fund or a parent’s social security check. It takes a long time for trust to be rebuilt, and the individual needs to come to terms with the possibility that some relationships may be lost as a result of their disclosure.
Most compulsive addicts require professional help, so remember you can’t take on everything yourself. Encourage your loved one to seek therapy or counseling, and, if you suspect s/he is having suicidal thoughts, here are hotlines they can call.
If you suspect that suicide or self-harm is imminent, don’t hesitate to call 911. Keep the person on the phone with you or ensure they are not alone until they get the help they need. Always take a suicide threat seriously.
Chloe Pearson is a research specialist and freelance writer. She enjoys volunteering for ConsumerHealthLabs.com because she understands that in order for consumers to make the best decisions about their health they need reliable, well-researched information on which to base those decisions. That’s what everyone at Consumer Health Labs aims to do as they explore and interpret new health-related data and research.