There are distinct types of addiction, and while most people assume that the word refers to an obsession with substances such as alcohol or illegal drugs, the reality is that anything can become an addiction if it has a negative impact on the life of the individual. For example, there are many people who find themselves addicted to shopping, video games, or even sex. Addiction is any pattern of behaviour that negatively affects the life of the person. One activity that has been destroying the lives of many people for years is gambling. Nevertheless, gambling addiction is becoming a much bigger problem these days, thanks in no small part to the advent of the internet and the online gambling site. While this is a major problem for those who find themselves in the grip of this addiction, there are others who are also negatively affected, mainly the close family members of the addict. This article aims to explain how gambling addiction affects the family as well as the individual and what can be done about it.
The Secret Addiction
While a drug or alcohol addiction tends to result in noticeable physical symptoms, the same cannot be said of a gambling addiction. A gambling addiction usually takes time to develop. It starts with occasional gambling, but those who do go on to develop a problem gambling habit tend to find that the thrill and anticipation of the bet entice them. It is not so much about how much money they win as most will continue betting even when they win or lose. It is more about the excitement they feel and the rush of adrenaline that surges through them before they discover the outcome of the bet.
It used to be the case that those who wanted to gamble would do so in a betting shop, at a race track, bingo hall or casino. The individual would have to travel to a specific premises in which to place their bet. However, since the internet has grown and almost everyone now has access to mobile devices capable of accessing it, there is no need to leave the house when wanting to gamble.
It is now possible to gamble at any hour of the day from the comfort of your own home. Some people access gambling sites on the way to work via their smartphone or tablet. Others sit all night long with their mobile in hand gambling away without anyone else realising what they are doing.
It is no surprise, therefore, that gambling addiction is often referred to as a ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ addiction. Those who have developed a gambling addiction often descend into a downward spiral of betting without their loved ones being aware. It is only when they find themselves in dire financial straits that they cannot hide their addiction any longer.
How a Gambling Addiction Develops
As previously mentioned, a gambling addiction does not occur overnight. It takes time for what was once a pleasurable activity to turn into something destructive. Most individuals will begin with the excitement of the bet, and if they do win, they will almost certainly have a positive opinion of it. Many gamblers believe they are ‘good’ at gambling and that they have a talent for it. These people will convince themselves that they will continue winning and may be tempted to increase their stakes.
It goes without saying that winning streaks and luck do not continue where gambling is concerned. Those who have become preoccupied with gambling will spend all their time either gambling or thinking about it. They may become obsessed with it and every spare moment will be taken up with it. They will lie to their family and friends about what they are doing and will try to avoid spending time with them or going to certain events if it gets in the way of gambling. Some will start to borrow money from loved ones or lending institutes and may even default on their debts when they have lost money. At this point, the urge to chase losses tends to kick in, often resulting in larger losses and more debt.
Gamblers who are being forced to chase losses become desperate. They know that they should just stop but are unable to control their urges. They continue to gamble in the hope that a big win is right around the corner. When it doesn’t come, they will feel guilty and ashamed because they have once more spent money that they could not afford to lose. Some will resort to stealing or ‘borrowing’ without permission. They will convince themselves that they will win this money and more and that all their problems will soon be over.
The Impact that Gambling Addiction Has on the Family
It is common for addicts to say that their actions are harming only themselves, but this is never the case. It is particularly untrue in terms of gambling addicts. This type of addiction requires constant access to funds and even those with plenty of money will be negatively affected. It is wrong to say that gambling cannot be an addiction if the person can afford to lose the money. There is so much more to it than that.
Obviously, the biggest impact on the family is going to be the financial situation they find themselves in. The worst thing for many families is that they suddenly find themselves in financial trouble having not had a clue that anything was wrong. Many spouses will discover that savings they thought they had have been gambled away, and property has been re-mortgaged and is on the verge of being repossessed. This can plunge the family into crisis, and the emotional and psychological impact can be devastating. Every member of the family will feel hurt, betrayed, and angry.
A gambling addiction is not just about the loss of money, however. In fact, the problem gambler will become so obsessed with gambling that he or she may begin to neglect family members and relationships. This time-consuming habit can have a massive negative impact on the entire family. It tends to lead to the following:
- Arguments between partners, particularly over money, debt, and lack of responsibility on the part of the addict.
- Preoccupation of the gambler and an inability to focus on important matters.
- The addict is unable or unwilling to spend time with family members due to his or her habit.
- The addict lies to family members and may steal from them to get money to gamble.
Unfortunately, many relationships do not survive a gambling addiction. The hurt and pain that is caused by the actions of the addict can be too much for some people to get over. Partners of gambling addicts may struggle to get close either physically or emotionally to the person who has caused so much heartache and damage to the family.
Some gambling addicts will be ashamed of their behaviour and will then isolate themselves from others so that they do not have to face them or take responsibility for their actions. Sometimes, relationships will deteriorate because the addict has borrowed money and is unable to pay it back.
Problems with health can also occur because of a gambling addiction. While there are no immediate physical signs and symptoms with this type of addiction, the impact of stress on health can never be underestimated. Both mental and physical problems can occur for the individual and family members.
It is common for those affected either directly or indirectly by a gambling addiction to suffer with bowel problems, muscle aches, ulcers, headaches, depression, and anxiety. Trouble sleeping is also another common problem. Family members often lay awake at night worrying about their financial situation and whether they will be able to continue holding things together.
The Impact on Children
Children are often deeply affected by a parent’s gambling addiction. They may be confused and upset at having been ignored or neglected. Parents who become so preoccupied with gambling will often neglect their children, which can have a lasting impact. Small children who do not understand what is happening often blame themselves and believe they are at fault for their parent’s illness.
The knock-on effect for some children is that they begin to have trouble in school. They may lie to friends and teachers or they may isolate themselves from others for fear that their secret will be discovered.
Older children might feel as though they have to take sides between both parents, and some will find this extremely tough to deal with. Many will go on to dabble with alcohol or drugs in a bid to help them forget what is going on at home.
Help for Family Members
Many of those whose lives have been torn apart by a family member’s gambling addiction will want to know what they can do to rectify their situation. It is not uncommon for them to believe that their addicted loved one should simply stop gambling to make everything okay again.
Some family members will believe that they need to fix the problem and may start making appointments for their loved one to attend a doctor or counsellor. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that addiction is a complicated illness, and trying to force someone into treatment could do more harm than good.
If you have been affected by a loved one’s addiction, the important thing to do is to let the individual know that you are willing to support them. Try to find out as much as you can about gambling addiction. Call us here at Middlegate, we can offer you helpful advice and information about how gambling addiction affects the family as well as other issues pertaining to gambling addiction. We will also run through the many options available in terms of rehabilitation.
It may be the case that you will need to hold a family intervention where you and a group of other people sit down with the addicted person to tell them how their illness is affecting the entire family. During an intervention, the addict should be encouraged to face up to the impact that the illness has had on everyone and to accept the need for treatment.
We can help when it comes to arranging a family intervention. As well as giving helping advice and guidance on holding your own intervention, we can put you in touch with a professional interventionist if you prefer. All you need to do is get in touch with us today.