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.