Problem Gambling: How It Affects the Entire Family

As someone develops a gambling problem, a plethora of financial, emotional, and mental difficulties can rise to the surface on an individual level. For those who do not seek support, the collective toll can be so severe that it permeates to just about every facet of their life — leaving the affected feeling hopeless, distraught, or scared. However, problem gambling doesn’t only impact the gambler themselves; it creates a ripple effect on those close to them, such as their peers, co-workers, friends, and intimate partners. Bearing the biggest brunt, perhaps, is the problem gambler’s family.

Let’s take a look at the influence problem gambling has on those surrounding the problem gambler, exploring how extensive its influence can be.

A Financial Gamble

Problem gamblers may take extreme measures in obtaining the monies to fund their bets, pay outstanding wagers, and continue the vicious cycle. This can include everything from secretly dipping into the family’s savings to contributing toward a gambling stash the family is unaware of.

On the contrary, well-meaning family members, usually the gambler’s spouse, often try to “help” the gambler by lending money, bailing them out of difficulties, fronting their bills, aiding them in stowing away money to gamble, and other enabling behaviors related to making funds available.

In either case, the financial losses may become too great. Not being able to meet monthly expenses can snowball into house foreclosure, bankruptcy, and mounting debt that undoubtedly affects spousal and parental relationships, but can debilitate family members’ future.

An Emotional Fold

Whether knowingly weighed down by financial problems or confounded at a family member’s unusual, secretive behavior, family ties can tear at the seams. Protecting children may be the most challenging feat, as children naturally look to their parents for security and emotional support. When that’s absent or dwindling for reasons unbeknownst to them, a divide begins to take shape.

Children may seek to distract attention away from the problem gambler by acting disruptive or even comedic; however, they may display an opposite manner by becoming withdrawn or fearful. On the other hand, older children may assume a protector role or attempt to pick up the responsibilities of one or both parents.

If a problem gambler is a son, daughter, or sibling in the immediate family, similar tensions can rear their ugly head. Depending on their age and severity of problem gambling, strained relationships with the child’s parents running parallel to a strong sibling bond can further rupture a family, fragmenting off into a web of mistrust, feelings of betrayal, and acts of rebellion for all members.

A Violent Hand

Arguments and emotional outbursts may lead to domestic violence against the spouse, children, or both. Both parents may direct anger and confusion toward children, while children may try to defuse tensions or stick up for one parent in return. The more substantial the losses, the longer unchecked problem gambling goes on, the greater the potential for serious bodily harm to members of the family who may feel justified in their behavior.

There are numerous ways problem gambling can affect a family or household. While it’s essential to recognize behavioral patterns common amongst relatives with a gambling problem, it’s also critical to understand that the “before” and “after” for many strained family relationships doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. If you suspect you or someone in your family may be facing a gambling problem, call our helpline today at 800-GAMBLER.



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