15 January 2020
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How to Help an Excessive Gambler?

If you are the partner, parent or friend of someone who has developed a gambling addiction, it is perfectly normal to want to help. A partner will want to preserve his/her relationship and protect family assets. A parent will want to help his/her child (even adult) avoid financial and social problems related to a gambling addiction. A friend will feel his/her relationship threatened and will want to intervene with the gambler. All these reactions are profoundly human and speak about the connection between you and the excessive gambler.

How to Recognize a Gambling Addiction?

Do you have doubts about the gambling behaviours of a loved one? Certain signs can help you detect the presence of a gambling problem. Consult our article on the 9 Signs of a Gambling Addiction, to help you recognize these behaviours.

However, before addressing the situation with the gambler, it is important to be informed on how a gambling problem manifests itself and on the necessary steps to take to overcome it. If you or members of your family wish to broach the subject with the gambler, it is important to be well prepared and have support. Here are some tips you may use and above all, do not hesitate to get help from a specialized counsellor at Gambling: Help and Referral or the Centre de réadaptation en dépendance (CRD) in your area.

The Desire to Cut Back or Stop Gambling
Must Come From the Gambler

Figuring out that your loved one has a gambling addiction is one thing. Knowing if he/she recognizes the problem or is willing to change things in his/her life is another.

People who have an addiction to gambling are not all at the same stage of awareness and therefore not at the same stage of motivation to change. If you wish to help a loved one undertake the necessary steps to treat his addiction, you will have to adapt your intervention according to his/her stage. Psychologists Prochaska and DiClemente identified six stages of change which are summarized as follows:

  1. Not recognizing the problem: your loved one does not think he/she has a gambling problem.
  2. Ambivalence: he/she admits to being a bit worried about his/her gambling habits, but quickly justifies them.
  3. Preparation: at this stage, your loved one admits to having a problem and accepts the idea of modifying his/her behaviours.
  4. Action: he/she accepts to undertake the necessary steps or to get help to modify the behaviours and concretely begins to change them.
  5. Maintaining healthy behaviours: this is a time of strengthening changes that were put in place and for learning new behaviours. For many months, your loved one has been resisting the temptation to go back to old gambling behaviours.
  6. Newfound freedom: the temptations are now far behind your loved one. He/she feels good in this new life.

Slip or Relapse?

A slip can occur at any moment during this process, which is not necessary linear. It is a short and non-recurring return to gambling and does not mean it will turn into a relapse. Relapsing means diving into old habits for a longer period. Slipping is part of the normal process of change, and could be a stepping stone towards success as long as your loved one thinks hard about what he/she can, and wants, to do to prevent it from happening again in the future.

How to Act with an Excessive Gambler?

The person that is dear to you is perhaps not ready to talk to you about his/her problems or even admit to having a gambling addiction. In which case, the motivation to change is slim to none. He/she is in the not recognizing the problem stage of the process of change. In this case, trying to get him/her to face her gambling behaviours will not have the desired effect. It is therefore essential to take into account your loved one’s level of motivation to change before attempting to intervene.

Avoid putting pressure

When your loved one is in one of the two first stages of motivation (not recognizing the problem or ambivalence), it is important that you do not try to force him/her to admit the problem and to not blame or accuse him/her. Your role, however, remains essential during these stages. You are probably suffering certain negative consequences related to the gambler’s behaviour, such as, lies, debts, not keeping their word, missed dates, etc. Without talking about the gambling, you can express your disappointment about the lies, your worries about the debt, your anger or sadness about the missed dates. You must do that using I-Statements and avoiding You-Statements. For example:

« I am very disappointed about not having learned the truth about why you were late yesterday ».

« I am very worried about our finances: I don’t know how we will pay off this new debt ».

« I waited one hour for our lunch date and I was so worried! I am so angry! ».

By using I-Statements, your loved one does not feel blamed or judged. Someone who feels blamed or judged has a tendency to close him/herself off or fight back, which can make situations deteriorate. Using I-Statements allows you to make your loved one aware about how you feel in regards to his/her behaviours. It is not necessary to mention his gambling behaviours; he/she can make the connection between them and your pain, worry and disappointment. This could bring your loved to become aware of the impact of his/her behaviours have on you and your relationship. While nothing is certain, this could eventually make your loved one want to change his/her behaviours.

Address a strategy for change

Your loved one has surprised you by admitting he/she has a gambling problem and wanting to change. Do not bombard him/her with orders, moralizing remarks and advice. Instead, ask your loved one what he/she intends to do and what steps he/she is willing to take. If he/she asks, you can inform him/her about the free, specialized help for gambling provided by the centres de réadaptation en dépendance (CRD) of Québec, available in all areas. In order to get more information on the help that is available, refer your loved one to Gambling: Help and Referral. It will also be a good opportunity for him/her to learn about the TeleCounseling service which is an over the telephone help that we provide.

Acknowledge their efforts

At this stage, you will be able to praise his/her courage in asking for help, his/her willingness to change his/her behaviours and his/her honesty in recognizing the problem. You can thus contribute in maintaining or even encouraging his/her motivation to change and his/her decision to take the necessary steps. Whether your loved one cuts back on gambling or stops altogether, recognize each effort that he/she has made and every small step made towards his/her goal.

Accept the setbacks

Your loved one has gambled again….he/she is disappointed and so are you. You have the right to be disappointed, to be angry, and to be sad. You have the right to tell your loved one, but remember that using I-Statements allows him/her to be aware of your feelings without him/her feeling blamed or judged. It will take a long time to rebuild the trust, but it is possible.

Be aware of temptations

 Your loved one has reached his/her goal. He/she may be vulnerable for a while. It is normal, learned behaviours that were acted out for months, if not years, will only change by putting in the time and effort that is necessary.

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