Q: I'm finally at the point where I have to admit that my husband appears to have a compulsive gambling problem. It used to just be the occasional card game with the guys, but these days he has multiple online accounts and places bets each week on more sports contests than I can even follow. Do you have any insights?
Jim: Unfortunately, in the past few years gambling has come right out into the mainstream. It's no longer limited to casinos or hidden websites -- the legalization of gambling in various forms (especially sports wagering) means that you basically can't escape television commercials or social media ads touting how easy it is to gamble. In my opinion, it's part of a much larger problem in our society as vices become normalized.
Here's my take. Objective research has long shown that gambling is an especially dangerous practice with the serious potential for developing into a damaging addiction. Addictions by nature are progressive in nature; there's a direct line that can (and very often does) stretch from availability to addiction.
In other words, the easier it is to access something "on demand," the more likely for that thing to become addictive. In this case, that can play out as a sports fan checking his phone app and finding that he's several hundred dollars in the hole after a quick series of impulsive one-touch prop bets while hanging out with his buddies.
The truth is that gambling isn't as innocuous as many seem to suppose. It's actually predicated on the losses, pain and suffering of others. For one person to win at gambling, others must lose. And often the biggest losers are the gambler's closest loved ones. Families touched by a gambling addiction are at increased risk for such negative outcomes as divorce, bankruptcy, child abuse, domestic violence, crime and suicide. Gambling also exploits and preys upon the desperation of the poor. The National Gambling Impact Study Commission found that those with incomes of less than $10,000 spend more on lottery tickets than any other group, while high school dropouts spend four times as much as college graduates.
Meanwhile, there's one ironclad rule to gambling: the house (the gambling institution) ultimately comes out on top.
If your husband is a compulsive gambler, as you suspect, then it's only a matter of time before his escalating condition lands him in some serious trouble. He may very well deny that there's a problem. Dr. Robert Custer, a trailblazer in the field of gambling diagnosis and treatment, says that denial, in the psychiatric context, "means refusing to acknowledge something to oneself, getting oneself to actually believe that there is no danger at all." It's a very common mindset among those who struggle with an addiction to gambling.
That's why it's critical to confront the issue head-on. Urge your husband to get some kind of professional help. If he's unwilling to listen, see if you can enlist the help of an objective third party -- a pastor, a relative or a male friend who agrees with your assessment of the situation and who would be willing to come alongside you in order to strengthen your case.
If all else fails, try to pull together a group of friends and supporters who can help you stage a formal intervention. You may want to include a licensed counselor or therapist who specializes in this kind of activity. Overcoming addiction of any kind is a long process that requires trained guidance. Our counseling department can help direct you to qualified individuals all over the country; call 855-771-HELP (4357) or see FocusOnTheFamily.com. I wish you the best.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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