How Gambling Addiction Affects The Family?
Gambling disorder consists of persistent and recurrent gambling behavior despite the negative consequences it has on all aspects of the person's life, including personal, relational, vocational, and financial difficulties.
Who’s At Risk?
The family exerts a powerful influence on people's lives, what happens to one member immediately affects the other members, and vice versa. As in other addictive behaviors, the impact of pathological gambling goes beyond the affected patient. On occasions, when relatives find out that one of the family members is affected by pathological gambling, relatives may experience shock and changes in their outlook on life, which may lead to a period of stress in which they cannot process everything that is happening to them. The repercussions derived from having a gambler in the family vary depending on the type of relationship established with the affected person. In this sense, the greatest impact is suffered by the closest family: the player's partner and children, normally. These consequences are so important that, in some cases, the family – mainly the couple – may find themselves even more psychologically and physically affected than the gambler himself. For many gamblers, coming to light of the problem supposes a sensation of certain liberation, after years of constant lies about the game, of hiding from the family the debts and the various associated problems. At that moment, the family suddenly finds itself with a problem that, in many cases, they did not know about or attributed to other causes: problems at work, alcohol consumption, significant debts, etc. In fact, it is common for the family to show a greater degree of concern and nervousness about the problem in the first consultations than the player, who is more concerned, at that initial therapeutic moment, with relativizing or minimizing the extent of his/her addiction.
Science Behind The Subject
The scientific literature and psychotherapeutic practice identify three phases that families go through when they encounter a family member affected by pathological gambling:
In the first stage, the denial phase, the family refuses to acknowledge the problem, believing that there is no danger and that it is the continuation of what it has always been. Ignorance of the problem can be maintained for years as long as it has low levels of interference. At a later stage, the stress phase, the family ends up realizing the seriousness of the problem; but they continue to accept the justifications of the gambler, even feeling guilty for the acts carried out by the affected family member. Generally, the family tries to help the gambler by providing economic resources or means to solve their financial problems, under the gambler's promise to immediately stop gambling. This effort to help the gambler is usually in vain since gambling behavior is facilitated, which significantly aggravates the family situation, which feels frustrated and desperate, thereby increasing the rejection of the gambler. Finally, in the third phase, the exhaustion phase, the family becomes exasperated, suffering from insomnia, loss of appetite, and excessive use of medications.
After the notification of pathological gambling suffered by a family member, the family tends to be overwhelmed, they do not know very well what to do, where to go, how to act. The best thing is to put themselves in the hands of professionals, consult their health centers of reference, where they will be referred to the specific rehabilitation units that will help them understand and treat this type of disease and to the associations of people affected by compulsive gambling that help and care for this group, both the patients themselves and their families.
- Federación Española de Jugadores de Azar Rehabilitados. (2015). Intervención en el entorno familiar de personas con conductas adictivas. La familia, un agente más en el cambio.
- American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM-V).Washington, D.C: Author.
- Astorga, A. (2003) Reflexiones Sobre Familia e Intervención Psicosocial en el Marco de la Protección Integral de Derechos y el Pensamiento Relacional.
- Bombín, B. (2010) Manual del Ludópata: Guía para pacientes y familiares. Toledo: FEJAR.
- Escartín, M.J.; Palomar, M.; Suárez, E. Introducción al trabajo social II: Trabajo social con individuos y familias (1997) Ed. Aguaclara.