How to Help Someone With a Gambling Problem

Robert Custer, considered the trailblazer of modern gambling diagnosis and treatment, writes: Social workers can help add quality of life to the years older adults have left, and that is well worth the effort. I am powerless over my gambling addiction and my life is unmanageable. This content does not have an Arabic version. Exercise, deep breathing, and meditation can all be helpful in managing these feelings. Although most people who play cards or wager never develop a gambling problem, certain factors are more often associated with compulsive gambling:. This shows that I'm probably not a gambling addict.

Gambling Problems: An Introduction for Behavioral Health Services Providers

Not seeing the real problem

Relaxation exercises are another great way to lessen anxiety. Check out the Stress Recess section of this website for some simple ways to get started on developing these skills. What if a friend has a gambling problem? One of the hardest things about helping people with gambling problems is that they are very likely to deny they have any problem even when it's obvious to people around them. I can quit any time I want. I can cover my debts. Don't avoid the topic. Do avoid lectures and verbal attacks.

Don't continue the conversation if you begin to feel impatient or angry. You may encounter defensiveness and denial. Don't take this personally, but make it clear you're concerned and tell the person how his or her gambling behavior affects you. You may have to set limits with the person. Don't be persuaded into excusing, justifying, overlooking, enabling or participating in the person's self-defeating behaviors.

Helping a friend pay a debt may seem to temporarily alleviate the problem, but it can actually perpetuate the problem by contributing to a feeling of invincibility that some gamblers develop. If the person agrees that he or she has a problem, try to: Remain supportive and reinforce even small efforts toward change. Be prepared for some steps backward as a normal part of the recovery process.

Help the person make contact with recovering gamblers and organizations like Gamblers Anonymous. Encourage activities that are not related to gambling, and curb your own gambling behaviors. Educate yourself about problem and compulsive gambling. Where can I find help? National Council on Problem Gambling: Contact them at for more information. Martin first became interested in problem gambling among older adults in during her postdoctoral work, which was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St.

What surprised Martin was not merely how many older adults have an addictive relationship with gambling but the extent to which the gambling industry appeared to enable the problem. In the bathroom, there were boxes for diabetics to dispose needles.

Older adults told me stories of how the casinos always remember their birthday, and if they stayed away too long, the casino would send them a card saying that they were missed.

Of course, casinos are not the only businesses that make a conscious effort to market gambling to elders. Today, older adults can find plentiful opportunities to gamble in senior centers and retirement homes where bingo nights and poker clubs are often part of standard activities.

Nower describes a phenomenon that may also attract older adults to gambling. I would say five out of 10 were older adults, mostly women. One lady who was in a wheelchair told me that the casino for her was a safe place, and when she was at the casino, nobody noticed the fact that she was in a wheelchair. Risks for Older Adults In some ways, the risks of problem gambling for older adults are the same as those faced by younger gamblers—a sudden, devastating loss of financial security and accompanying legal troubles.

But older adults with gambling problems also have unique risks. Reduced cognitive capacity among some elders can make it difficult for them to make sound decisions. Nower describes a related problem that should concern social workers. In a recently published study, Nower and her colleagues found that older adults were most likely to ban themselves from casinos because of their fear of suicide.

Problem Behaviors, Problematic Definitions The ability of mental health professionals to diagnose and treat any behavioral problem has always been affected and often limited by the current definition of the problem. This is particularly true of addictive behaviors, and gambling is no exception. Today, problem gambling is still identified by terminology that came in use in Five out of the 10 criteria are required for a pathological gambling diagnosis. Martin believes that this current definition of pathological gambling has serious drawbacks.

While this type of diagnosis is clearly defined and allows clinicians to communicate with one another and make treatment outcome comparisons across cases, Martin believes it also excludes a lot of information. As the gambling increases, so does the strength of the denials.

Denial, like gambling itself, grows incrementally, so that an excuse raised early on in the process prepares the spouse's reasoning for further, and gradually greater, deceptions. The result is that, later in the process, the spouse is "no longer dealing with reality as reality," Custer writes. So great is the spouse's fear of reality, of the truth that she in fact has married a man with gambling problems, that she has shelved all her standards for testing reality. Although in the short run denial seems to serve a purpose — it does keep family amity at least ostensibly intact and permits the family to conduct their daily lives in a quasi-normal way without anxiety, depression, shame or anger overwhelming them — in the long run it is counterproductive.

The gambler takes solace in the fact that he can fool his spouse that he can get away with his gambling. When the spouse takes his side, in effect going along with him in his gambling behaviour by denying reality, she is only encouraging him. The family or marital harmony the spouse thinks she is rescuing with her rationalizations and excuses turns out to be a mere peaceful pause in a plot that is inevitably approaching a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions.

Gambling problems are what they are; they are not debt problems or financial problems or budget problems or money management problems. They are gambling problems, and they will remain so until something is done to correct them. They won't fix themselves. Not seeing them for what they really are does nothing to change any of that.

New Harbinger, , p.

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