How to Recognize When Your Spouse Has a Gambling Problem or Addiction

by Jessica Sommerfield · 4 comments

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. I would go as far as to say that even gambling huge sums may be justified as long as their finances can justify the expense. I have a friend who frequently goes to Vegas and can blow five figure sums on any given trip. Do I think it’s crazy? Of course I do. But he makes multiple six figures and pays all his bills on time. He’ll likely work until he’s 65 while I can probably retire much earlier, but who am I to judge? It’s all just about priorities.

He’s obviously a special case though. For many others, gambling can lead to addiction and serious consequences for those who can’t control their 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 addiction, 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 them 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 be 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.

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  • Rae says:

    Once my boyfriend started gambling, he has been fighting with me off and on. He admits he has a problem but hasn’t stopped. He spends so much money and loses alot. It feels like he wants to fight all the time. One day he loves me and the next he wants to break up. What do you do? He is my best friend and I love him so much. I want the man he was back. He doesn’t believe this is the reason for our fighting. I don’t know what to do. I have read all the signs and what happens. This is him to a T.

    • David @ says:

      Thank you for sharing. I’m not an expert and don’t pretend to know the solution but have you considered looking seeking help from support groups? Perhaps there are others in your area that can offer help.

      Also, it’s possible that your boyfriend is just more in “fight mode” because he’s upset about his losses as well. I know that I’m more argumentative or combative with others when I’m feeling down or stressed. That’s no excuse of course, but perhaps he’s still the man inside if you can figure out how to help him destress (by having him quit his addiction).

  • Pam says:

    One big sign of some type of addiction is always being broken, even when you have a good paying job. I have a family member who had a spouse with a gambling addiction. The relationship ended in divorce, which is a sad side effect of a gambling addition. Counselling is in order, if they are willing. Sadly they have to hit rock bottom, before this happens.

    • David @ says:

      Sorry to hear about your family member but thank you for sharing that story.

      In the end, the only person who can ultimately stop the addiction is the person who’s addicted. Hopefully someone will read what you wrote and stop themselves from gambling even more.

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