Gambling addiction can affect anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or gender. If you're worried that your spouse may have a gambling problem, it's important to know the signs.
What Causes Gambling Addiction?
A gambling problem can progress gradually, starting with an innocent bet here and there, before progressing into a full-fledged addiction. Gambling can be used as a coping mechanism for difficult life circumstances or unaddressed mental health issues. It can also serve as a temporary distraction from boredom and loneliness.
Gambling is addictive because it stimulates the brain's reward system much like drugs or alcohol does. Winning or losing becomes irrelevant, and the gambler becomes hooked on the act of placing a bet and taking a risk.
How Gambling Addiction Affects Relationships
Sadly, gambling addiction can destroy lives and relationships. It can cause frequent arguments and disagreements, and can also lead a person to lie to their loved ones in order to gamble more, which results in a loss of trust. You may be feeling very lonely and isolated, and hurt by your partner’s actions.
Not only that, but gambling addiction can cause financial strife which can put stress on relationships, especially if there are children involved. Children can pick up on tension between their parents, and it may cause them to feel anxious about financial stability in the home, and what it means for their future.
If at any point your spouse or partner is physically or verbally abusive towards you or your children, seek help right away!
Signs Your Spouse Has a Gambling Addiction
If your spouse gambles regularly, it's important to be aware of the signs that it is becoming a problem. Here are some of the most common signs to look out for:
- Continuing to gamble despite serious consequences
- Unsuccessfully attempting to control, cut back, or stop
- Building up a tolerance to gambling
- Unexplained spending of money
- Defensive when confronted about their gambling
- Being secretive about finances and internet use
- Irritable or restless when not gambling
Dealing With a Gambler in Denial
Gambling is so normalized in our society, that many people who gamble compulsively don't even realize that they have a problem. When confronted about their gambling habits, they may get defensive or make excuses, and may be very much in denial about having a gambling problem. This makes it difficult for the family member to help them in any way.
Spouses of gamblers often feel frustrated and helpless when it comes to their loved one's gambling problem. As the spouse of a gambler, it’s important not to be so hard on yourself, or to make yourself responsible for your loved one's gambling habits.
It's also important that you don’t fall into a pattern of denial yourself - excusing or minimizing their behavior isn’t going to do anyone any favors. Gambling is a big deal, and if you are feeling that it’s getting out of control, it’s better to address the problem right away, before it gets worse.
How to Cope with Your Spouse's Gambling Addiction
When a family member is struggling with a gambling addiction, it can be tempting to put all your focus on getting them to stop gambling, but you need to look after your own well-being during this time as well.
Understanding Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction is a complex addiction, and it can be difficult to understand why your spouse can’t just quit. You may be thinking, “If they loved me, they would stop gambling,” but sadly, it’s not that simple.
Gambling addicts are really struggling with a disease that alters their brain chemistry. Although this doesn’t excuse their behavior and poor choices, you shouldn’t take it personally when they don’t stop gambling just because you asked them to.
Take Care of Yourself
Dealing with a loved one’s gambling addiction can cause a lot of stress and anxiety. It can be far too easy to put your own needs on the back burner, but if you are not taking care of yourself, you will not be able to take care of others.
You can take care of yourself by getting plenty of rest, practicing self-care, eating a balanced diet and engaging in light exercise.
Set Boundaries with Your Spouse
Healthy boundaries help you define who you are and keep relationships safe, respectful and supportive. Unhealthy boundaries, on the other hand, can be used to manipulate or control others or keep loved ones at arm’s length.
Setting healthy boundaries are essential for protecting yourself emotionally. No matter how much you want to, you will never be able to control your spouse or their addiction. Don't tolerate negative behaviors, including lying and stealing, manipulation, or disrespect.
Don't serve them with an ultimatum - such as leaving them if they don't stop gambling This is manipulative, and is not helpful to the gambler. However, if you feel that it’s better for your mental health to have physical space from your spouse, communicate this with them.
When you are faced with the challenge of your spouse's gambling addiction, remember that you are not alone. Talking about your problems with someone else can be very helpful in terms of relieving some tension. You can do this through individual counseling, or attending support groups for family members of addicts.
Even confiding in a friend or family member who you can rely on can be highly beneficial. No matter what, you should not attempt to go through this all on your own.
Treatment Options for Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction is a complex problem that requires professional help, and your spouse may benefit from a variety of treatments. Some treatments, like Gamblers Anonymous meetings, are open to the public and can be accessed by anyone.
Others, like residential gambling treatment, are tailored specifically to the gambler and are more effective and long-lasting.
Encourage your spouse to seek professional treatment for gambling, but also understand that they can only recover when they understand the severity of their addiction, and are ready to put in the effort to change their life.
If you want to learn more about treatment options for your spouse, reach out to our certified gambling counselors. If you have questions related to this topic, leave us a comment below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.