Obviously, not everyone who gambles has a problem. Many people enjoy gambling as a social activity without it threatening their financial security or family relationships. Nonetheless, gambling can lead to addiction and serious consequences for those who can’t control the impulse. With as many as 3-5 out of every 100 gamblers, and as many as 750,000 young people ages 14-21 having a gambling addition, gambling can be compared to handling fire — it can either be used to your advantage, or seriously hurt you.
How can you tell when someone you love is developing a gambling problem? At what point does it become an addiction? These are questions you may be afraid to contemplate, but recognizing and admitting are the first steps to helping your spouse overcome a gambling problem and avoid further devastating consequences.
A Gambling Problem: Recognizing the Signs
A gambling problem is defined as behavior that disrupts life, even if it’s not out of control. The reasons for excessive gambling vary, but many people use it to alleviate stress or feelings of incompetency. The following signs may indicate your spouse has a gambling problem:
- Increasing preoccupation with gambling that consumes excessive time and money
- Feeling the need to try to recap losses instead of calling it quits
- Gambling that has a negative effect on mood, behavior, relationships, and financial stability
Basically, there may have a problem if you’re worried about your spouse’s behavior. Once recognized, it’s important to calmly confront your spouse and discuss how to handle it together. Extreme responses of ignoring/passively enabling the problem, or issuing ultimatums are not effective because they will allow it to escalate. The confrontations can also make your spouse feel attacked and defensive, which could lead to covert gambling.
Ideally, gambling problems can be resolved without outside help. It’s important to pinpoint your spouse’s reasons for gambling and create a game plan for addressing their underlying motivations and trigger points.
The Defining Line of Addiction: Loss of Control
There is a fine but distinct line between a gambling problem and a gambling addiction, but it can be summed up in this phrase: loss of control. Someone with a gambling problem may be on the path to an addiction, but they are still able to maintain some sense of control. In the case of an addition, the impulse to gamble calls the shots. Here are the major signs.
- Obsession with gambling. Gambling becomes so important and all-consuming that it takes priority over financial stability, relationships, and physical well-being.
- Inability to stop. As with other addictions, your spouse may recognize they have a problem and even try to rein it in, but are unable to control it on their own.
- Psychological withdrawal. When addicts aren’t able to gamble, they’re likely to become restless, irritable, and otherwise disturbed.
- Secretive, dishonest, or illegal behavior. As a gambling addict’s finances get worse, they may resort to desperate measures to continue their behavior without detection or immediate consequences.
- Denial. Addicts often have difficulty admitting they have a serious problem. The illusion of control is what continues to twist their minds into rationalizing their behavior.
Your spouse might have a diagnosable compulsive gambling disorder if these signs describe him or her, and it may be time to seek outside help through group therapy sessions or individual counseling. Gambling can be a fun pastime, or it can be a serious problem too. It’s important to recognize the difference between a hobby, a problem, and an addition, and respond in a way that protects your relational and financial health.