There are many different types of addiction, although most of those unaffected by any type of addiction assume that addicts all abuse illegal drugs or alcohol. The reality is that anything can be classed as an addiction if it has a negative effect on a person’s day-to-day life. Certain behaviours can quickly become addictive because they can have the same effect on the brain as chemical substances such as alcohol or illicit drugs. Gambling is one such activity, and it is becoming increasingly problematic here in the UK.
A report by the Gambling Commission in 2017 found that in 2016, 48% of people admitted to having gambled in the previous four weeks. This was an increase of three per cent on 2015. With gambling addiction being a problem that continues to get worse, there is a major concern for the wellbeing of those directly and indirectly affected.
Gambling addiction can devastate many lives and can leave entire families destitute. In light of this, just how does gambling addiction affect the family?
A Hidden Problem
The issue is a complex one. In many instances, family members are oblivious to the fact that the problem even exists until it is at a late stage. This is because that today it has become much easier to hide such an addiction from family members and friends.
Unlike addictions to alcohol or drugs where there tend to be physical signs that a substance is being abused, with a gambling addiction, it is difficult to spot the warning signs. Gambling addiction is also referred to as a secret addiction because of the way in which problem gamblers can feed their habit without anyone else being aware of what they are doing.
This has been made possible with the advent of the internet and, in particular, smartphones and other mobile devices capable of accessing the internet. Gamblers can now access online gambling sites from the comfort of their own home. They can be sitting on their phones gambling in the same room as family members, all the while pretending they are just surfing the net or interacting on social media. It is that easy.
Moreover, the ease with which people can gamble has led to a dramatic rise in the number of individuals developing crippling addictions that are destroying their life and the lives of those they love.
How Does a Gambling Addiction Develop?
More often than not, family members discover a loved one’s gambling addiction when things are at a crisis point. The nature of such an addiction means that access to funds is required constantly and most people do not have an endless supply of disposable income.
In the early days, gambling can be a fun activity and gaming sites offer free bets and regular bonuses to keep gamblers coming back for more. There are those who manage to gamble sensibly but countless others quickly become hooked.
Once they have developed an addiction, it will begin to consume them. They will keep going back again and again in the hope of winning big. Some will return even when they have run out of money with which to gamble. At this point, they may be tempted to begin using money that they need for essential bills because they are convinced they can win it back.
The problem with gambling is that most people who have an addiction will be unable to stop, even when they have won money or broken even. They will continue to gamble because they believe they are going to win more. They usually only stop when they have nothing left to gamble with.
The cycle of gambling and borrowing often continues and as the gambler becomes increasingly desperate, he or she will take bigger risks. Some people get so desperate that they borrow or steal from others. It is usually at this point or soon afterwards that their problem is discovered.
Chasing losses is a common characteristic of the problem gambler. Many believe they can borrow from others and repay it back in kind when they secure a big win. Even those that do win tend to gamble it all away again before they can repay the money they have borrowed, leaving them and their family members in dire financial straits.
The Financial Impact of Gambling Addiction on the Family
A gambling addiction is like any other addiction in that it can have devastating consequences for the individual and his or her family members. The thought processes and behaviour of the addict can have a negative impact on the entire family dynamic, and the reality is that everyone suffers.
One of the main ways gambling addiction affects the family is in terms of finances. If a gambling addict is repeatedly spending all disposable income on his or her habit, it will leave little for everyone else within the family.
If the addiction progresses and bills cannot be paid, then the situation becomes even worse. When the gambling addict is also the person bringing in the money and taking care of financial commitments, the financial situation of the family can end up being desperate. In many instances, the non-earning partner is oblivious to what is going on.
He or she may be going about daily life without knowing that life is about to change dramatically. The gambling partner may be hiding the fact that he or she is deep in debt and that, for example, the family home is about to be repossessed.
The Emotional Impact on the Family
When the issue is finally out in the open and the extent of the problem is revealed, the impact on the family is often devastating. There is a real sense of betrayal and hurt felt by the non-addicted partner. The idea that all of this has been going on without them knowing can lead to feelings of anger and resentment and, in extreme cases, lead to an irreversible breakdown of the relationship.
When trust is broken, it can be difficult to get it back. The pain and suffering felt by family members can destroy relationships. It is not just couples who suffer either. Parents, siblings, and children will all be profoundly impacted by one family member’s gambling addiction.
It may have been the case that well-meaning parents or siblings were handing money to the gambler or bailing him or her out of financial predicaments without realising that the addiction existed. Unbeknown to them, what they were doing was actually enabling the gambler to continue feeding his or her habit. When this deception is discovered, it can have an emotional impact. Family members will feel betrayed and upset and some will even feel stupid for having been duped.
The Effect of Gambling Addiction on Health
While there are no main physical symptoms directly associated with gambling, the stress of hiding such a problem from loved ones can have a deep and lasting impact on mental and physical health.
Many gambling addicts will suffer anxiety and depression, and some will reach the point where they feel they have no option but to end their life. So deep can the impact of a gambling addiction be on mental health that there is a strong, and almost inevitable, link with suicide.
Others may become aggressive and violent as the stress of their personal situation reaches a peak. These emotional outbursts can lead some gambling addicts to vent their anger on whoever is nearest to them. This is often a partner or children.
Substance abuse is also strongly linked with gambling addiction. In fact, many gamblers become more reckless while under the influence of mood-altering chemicals, which can fuel their gambling addiction. Some will begin using these chemical substances to make them feel better when they are feeling guilty or ashamed for spending more than they planned to when feeding their gambling habit. The potential for cross addiction is enormous with a gambling addiction, and this can lead to many health problems and a greater impact on the entire family.
Can a Gambling Addiction be Treated?
Early intervention is important when it comes to minimising the damage caused by a gambling addiction. However, even those who have a severe addiction and have suffered devastating consequences can be helped to turn their life around.
With a treatment programme that incorporates a range of therapies, problem gamblers can learn how to change their thought processes and patterns of behaviour that led them to gamble. Experts in the field of treating gambling addiction know how to challenge negative thoughts and behaviours and can help with the development of new coping strategies to ensure the individual does not return to addictive behaviour going forward.
If the issue of how does gambling addiction affect the family is one you are concerned with, please give us a call. Whether you are worried about your own gambling addiction and the impact it can have on your loved ones, or if you are concerned for someone else, we can help.
Our job is to assess your situation and put you in touch with a treatment provider that can help you regain control of your life. Please call today for more information.