1314 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Becoming Aware of the Gambling Problem
As the spouse or family member becomes aware of the gambling problem they may use ego-defenses to protect themselves emotionally from the shock.
Henry Lesieur noted that at home, the gambler and their family go through Discovery Cycles – of awareness and denial in which the gambler is repeatedly “discovered.”
“Black Sheep Syndrome” the gambler borrowed from too many family members, avoids gatherings because of debts and loss of reputation.
Remember: The family is essentially abandoned by the gambler. The lost time is felt as rejection by the spouse and kids who feel unloved and may blame themselves. Self-esteem takes a real beating.
Ego Defenses are a way to mentally change reality so that it is tolerable. Used when awareness of a fact is too painful for the ego to cope, so it refuses to “see” the fact as it is. It is self-protecting: something threatens our belief in ourselves or others.
Denial – does not see the problem, different from ignoring it “He/She does not have a gambling problem, they can stop when they are ready.”
Minimization – admits that there is a problem, but decreases the importance “He only plays once in a while, playing bingo (or lottery) is harmless.”
Rationalization – explaining it away. “Everyone gambles, at least he is not having an affair or drinking.”
Blame others or situations – if it were not for that stressful job, if gambling was not everywhere he could control himself, if her husband was not so mean...
Typical Responses by Family Members to Addictions
Anger – forms love/hate relationship – tied to blaming addict for disease, decreases as family member accepts disease concept.
Shame – embarrassed to be associated with person so out of control, being unable to stop them from the behavior and for the consequences that impact others: leads to low self-esteem.
Hurt – the addict often will blame all the problems on the spouse, and blame them for the addiction itself.
Fear and Uncertainty – not knowing what condition the addict will be in (mood), uncertainty about financial health.
Loneliness – lack of nurturing, rewarding interactions, feels rejected, unloved. Addict spends more time with addiction than family.
-- this next information is taken from from: Johnson, V. E. (1986). Intervention can help someone who doesn’t want help. I really like the TV show intervention on the A&E station to learn about addiction interventions in very difficult situations
Desire to be Perfect – pick up the slack, keep everyone happy, being extra light, funny to balance the negative mood and prove you are not the cause of the problems.
Rebelliousness – draws negative attention away from gambler.
Apathy – withdrawal, overly quiet, isolating.
Guilt – feel like they cannot do anything to help, self blame.
The Protector – makes apologies to family and friends or employer, supports addicts delusional belief “he just gambles to relax, if only his work was not so hard.”
The Controller – tries to limit the behavior or control its expression; may include behavioral control (stimulus control) or emotional control (begging, nagging).
The Blamer – If you would only drink (gamble) like other people, I would not be such a nag, or if you do not do something about the problem I’ll take the kids away and leave.
After many years of work I have noticed that there is a pattern where the gamblers is seeming to getting better but the spouse is still hurting a lot and continues to mention the pain daily, while this kind of discussion can be done in a manner that is helpful for both, it also can become problematic. In many ways this is the most complex issue I have to work with. Because the spouse needs to express their fears and anger but it also leaves the gambler with a feeling that their spouse is not supporting the changes. Because the changes are very early and unstable and possibly not going to stick, the spouse is terrified that the gambler has not improved and becaue they have been through several rounds of " I will never do it again" followed by relapse (usually because the gambler never had treatment but even when they have started it or GA) it is very hard for the spouse to trust that progress is real, and yet if they "shove it in my face all the time" - which is what I hear from the gambler often, this is also problematic. This is also another reason why we want to get the spouse or partner into 12 step recovery programs. But there are situations where the spouse is just too burned out and the union might not survive. I suggest trying to give the situation at least 6 months if not a year to see if things improve. Sadly, with all addictions relapses happen, but the relapse might be a very small and short lived one relative to the blow outs of the past. This would be a sign of improvement. Giving an ultimatum is very problematic as the spouse often can not or does not follow-though with it and it creates a situation where the gambler is much more likely to hide any small slip thus continuing it and making it worse. That is not to say that there is a time where giving an ultimatum is not ok, it can be a good wake-up call to the gambler.
Copyright 2011 Dr. Eric Geffner's Gambling Treatment Program. All rights reserved.
1314 Westwood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90024