If you have discovered that someone in your family has developed a gambling addiction then you are probably feeling that you do not know which way to turn. You are probably blaming yourself for not spotting the signs earlier and having sleepless nights worrying about it whilst the gambler themselves seems not to share the same level of concern. They may actually feel a sense of relief that their ‘secret’ is out.
It is important that you understand and appreciate that a gambling addiction is a recognised mental disorder. Therefore, it is strongly advised that you do some research to help you develop your knowledge and understanding by reviewing gambling disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, commonly known as the DSM-5. Online gambling in particular is designed to be addictive and therefore it is. Our brains are designed in such a way they seek rewards. A gambling win produces a chemical in the brain called dopamine – the same chemical that many addictive drugs help to produce. So when a person gambles and wins the brain gives a basic emotional reward. Addictive behaviour can run in the family.
From the outset you will experience a whole range of emotions such as anger, resentment, disappointment and a general feeling of being completely lost. By having a better understanding and recognising the important role that you have to play and by developing strategies to help you cope this will in turn help you support your loved one.
The disordered gambler may appear to show little or no regard for the family in the early stages of recovery so don’t expect to find someone full of remorse. The perceived selfish ways in which they act are a direct consequence of the hold that the gambling has had on them. It is always worth remembering this because anger, resentment and arguments will most likely amplify the underlying shame and guilt they most likely feel and ultimately make them feel worse than they already do inside. However, do not despair, in time this will slowly change but do not expect this to happen overnight. They need to be selfish and focus on their recovery but as a family so do you.
There is not a ‘one-size fits all’ recovery programme and there is no straight forward simple solution. What works for one person or family may not work for another but it is important that you are aware of all of the help, guidance and strategies that are available and see what works best for your situation. There is no scientific proof that a gambling disorder cannot be treated so if something does not work for you first time then try a different approach but do keep trying.
It is crucial that during the very early stages of recovery you consider your own personal well-being and welfare. Try not to make the gambling the only thing in your world. It's really important that you do not let it consume you so try not to become too isolated from family and friends. Whilst you may not want to share everything with everybody, do try to talk to people you feel you can trust. There may be some that will not truly appreciate the severity of a gambling disorder and the response you get may leave you feeling a little disappointed or despondent. However, this will probably be due to a lack of understanding rather than a lack of empathy. In some cases it's surprising what comes out of the woodwork when you start to talk as you soon realise lots of families have concerns or worries. Theirs may not be gambling related but they may also be going through their own set of problems.
Look for opportunities for normality - simple things like a day out, going out for a meal with friends or trying to get away for a few days. Try not to keep questioning the disordered gambler and trying to catch them out by being one step ahead. This will only add to your own stresses and anxieties. Make sure you put as many barriers in place; take things one day at a time and remember the old saying 'time is the greatest healer'.