Husband’s Gambling is Not a Game

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on Februaury 11th, 2020 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question:  I believe my husband may have a gambling problem. What started as a few nights of card games out with the guys has turned into more frequent outings and I suspect trips to casinos. He also buys a lot of scratch and lottery tickets and has been hiding them. I’ve asked him about it a few times and he shakes it off as not a big deal. He recently sold some household items that I know he would not have parted with if he didn’t really need some money and it has me very worried. I want to get him help if he needs it but if he doesn’t see it as a problem, I don’t know how to.

Answer: I am glad you asked about this question.  It is hard to help someone when they don’t believe they have a problem. As with other addictions, admitting there is a problem is the first step to recovery. There are several indicators in what you wrote that do indicate a problem. You have noticed his attention to gambling increase, you have noticed he is buying a lot of scratch tickets and is hiding them. You have also noticed he has sold household items which you doubt he would part with if he didn’t need the money. Lastly, it is affecting your relationship; you are very worried.

Before I talk about him and the gambling problem in general, I would like to talk about you. It is important that you put in place things to protect your financial and your emotional health.  

  1. First, take over managing the family accounts. Keep a close eye on bank and credit card statements.  Do this frequently by checking periodically online or by phone. This will ensure that your own credit and finances are not at risk. Address questionable financial transactions early. Gambling addiction can cause people to behave in ways they never would have thought possible previously. This can mean lying and stealing.
  1. Prepare to be able to answer when he asks for money and be careful not to give in to manipulation.  Often with addictions the ones closest to the person with the problem can end up enabling them to continue. You can continue the cycle if you bail him out of debt or cover for him. Without efforts to recover he will have more debt soon.
  1. Confront the problem by talking with your husband about how his behavior is affecting the family. Try not to lose your temper or lecture him. Talk with him about getting help. Offer to go with him. A counselor can support you both in this. They can work with you on skills for setting boundaries. 
  1. Get support for yourself with such groups as GamAnon which can give you tools from people who have lived through this. You will learn not to bail him out if he gets into financial trouble. Even if he does not seek support from such a group, do so for yourself.
  1. Keep in mind that someone with a gambling problem is suffering and feels powerless to stop but often is not ready to recognize or admit this. Sometimes they gamble to treat underlying mood problems. Always take any statements about suicide seriously (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255).

Here are the criteria for Gambling Addiction from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders from the American Psychiatric Association. Help should be sought if someone has 4 or more of these behaviors:

  • A need to gamble in increasing amounts to get the same level of satisfaction from the process.
  • Is restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling.
  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to control or stop gambling or buy lottery tickets.
  • Preoccupation with gambling, watching for lottery numbers or purchasing scratch-off tickets in high amounts or very frequently.
  • Gambling when distressed (helpless, guilty, anxious or depressed).
  • Lying to hide the purchases or the extent of the investment in scratch-off pieces.
  • Chasing losses with more investments the next day, especially when done routinely.
  • Seeks out money from other people for gambling or buying lottery tickets.
  • Has jeopardized or lost significant relationship, job, or educational or career opportunities because of gambling
  • Relies on others to provide money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling.

Here are the keys to help you and your husband:  

  • Protect your finances
  • Get education about gambling
  • Get professional and community help and support for both of you 

Helpful links:

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website and click on “Referrals.”

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