It can be gut-wrenching watching your friend or family member become a shell of the person they once were. It can be especially challenging to know how to respond when your loved one admits they have a gambling problem. You want to be supportive and helpful and don’t want to say the wrong thing and be the reason they return to gambling.
First, recognize that you are never responsible for your loved one’s gambling disorder. They are responsible for their own actions. Review the following tips so that you can be ready when your friend or family member tells you about their gambling problem.
Don’t Be Judgmental
Be careful not to slap a label on your friend or family member. They are not simply a problem gambler; they are still the person you fell in love with. They have the same passions, interests, and beliefs.
As you speak with your loved one about their gambling disorder, remember that they already feel a great deal of shame and guilt. You don’t need to point out how their behaviors are wrong. Instead, show them that you still believe they are a person worthy of help. If you believe in them, they will be more likely to believe in their ability to recover from their gambling problem.
It took strength and bravery for your loved one to confide in you. Show respect for their choice by withholding your advice. Simply act as a listening ear and tell them how much you care about them and their wellbeing. If they express an interest in seeking professional treatment, that’s when you can offer to help.
Recognize the Strength It Took for Them to Admit Their Problem
Many people live with their gambling disorders in secret for years because of the shame they feel. If your loved one admits they have a problem of their own volition, they clearly trust you and believe you will be sensitive about the matter. Reward their bravery by thanking them for their honesty and offering to be there for them in whatever way they need. Your willingness to simply be a listening ear could encourage them to pursue the next steps of recovery.
Don’t Force Them to Get Treatment
If your loved one tells you about their gambling problem, they do not necessarily expect you to fix the problem yourself. In fact, they may not even be ready to seek professional treatment. Confiding in you about the problem may have been the only step they could handle at the moment. And that’s okay. Admitting their problem to a loved one is a giant step toward recovery.
When they tell you about their gambling problem, you can let them know you are willing to help them find treatment if they want, but leave it at that. Don’t push it anymore unless they specifically ask for your help. If they are open to seeking professional help, you can help your loved one go through their options, which include support groups, online Gamblers Anonymous meetings, and therapy.
Share Your Feelings
Dealing with your loved one’s disordered gambling is a challenging experience. Whether you’ve had to live with the effects of their gambling problem for several years or only a few months, your feelings about their behavior are valid.
When the opportunity presents itself, share your feelings with your loved one. Just make sure you’ve given yourself enough time to collect yourself so you can calmly and honestly share your feelings. Avoid using blaming and accusing words. Say something along the lines of, “It hurts me to see you struggle in this way,” or “It scared me to hear that you’re struggling, and I’m sure you were scared, too.” After telling them your feelings, let them know you are ready to work through the problem together when they are.
Seek Help for Yourself
Holding the secret of your loved one’s confession can be exhausting and lonely. If you’re dealing with this experience on your own because your loved one isn’t ready to tell anyone else, you can turn to 1-800-GAMBLER. We offer support for family and friends of problem gamblers so they can feel confident as they support their loved ones. To speak with someone who understands your experience, call our free, confidential gambling helpline today.