If you have discovered that someone in your family has developed a gambling disorder, you may not know which way to turn. You could be having sleepless nights, blaming yourself for not spotting the signs earlier, whilst the family member seems not to share the same level of concern (they may even feel a sense of relief that their ‘secret’ is out?).
From the outset, it is important that you understand and appreciate that a gambling addiction is a recognised mental disorder. By having a better understanding of the disorder, recognising the important role that you can play and developing strategies to help you cope, you will be in a stronger position to support your family member.
During the early stages of recovery, the family member may appear to show little or no regard for the rest of the family, so do not expect them to be full of remorse. As hard as it may be, try not to focus on the monetary loss; it can have a detrimental effect on the family member’s recovery and lead to unnecessary conflict. The perceived selfish ways in which they act are a direct consequence of the hold that gambling has over them. It is worth remembering this, because arguments will only amplify any underlying shame and guilt they feel and ultimately make them feel worse. Do not despair, as in time this will change. For now, they need to be selfish to focus on their own recovery - and so do you.
Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix or ‘one-size fits all’ recovery programme, but it is important that you are aware of the available information, guidance and strategies to discover 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 your family, don’t give up, try a different approach.
It is crucial that you consider your own personal well-being and welfare early in the recovery process. Try not to make gambling the only thing in your world and avoid becoming isolated from family and friends. Whilst you may not want to share every detail with everybody, talk to people you can trust. Not all will appreciate the severity of a gambling disorder, but do not feel despondent if the response is not as you had hoped, it is probably due to a lack of understanding rather than a lack of empathy.
Look for opportunities for normality - simple things like a day out or a meal with friends. Avoid questioning the family member in order to catch them out; this will only add to your own stresses and anxieties and may cause them to withdraw from you. Put in place practical barriers, take one day at a time and remember the old saying ‘time is the greatest healer’.
In conjunction with GRA5P, the Five Stage GamFam Recovery & Support Programme, this list of ’12 Things To Do’ suggests practical barriers you can put in place to help the family member in their recovery, whilst providing you with peace of mind during your own recovery. Some actions will be easier than others to implement and this is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a good starting point.
We have chosen to share this information at the start of the programme to demonstrate there is a way forward and that actions you take early on can make a difference.