Read the original article on the Basis website HERE.
By John Slabczynski
With online gambling revenue projected to surpass $150 billion by 2030, developing a better understanding of the causes and consequences of gambling-related problems is especially important. A key focus in those suffering from gambling problems is the family, as family members are greatly impacted by problem gambling. However, some evidence also indicates that one’s family can potentially contribute to the risk of developing gambling problems. This week, The WAGER reviews a study by Marie Aime Uwiduhaye and colleagues that examined the role of family in the relationships among psychosocial risks, gambling problems, and other adverse outcomes.
What were the research questions?
What are the psychosocial correlates of gambling problems? Does family dysfunction moderate the relationship among gambling problems and negative outcomes, including drug misuse, alcohol dependence, anti-social behavior, and poor sleep quality?
What did the researchers do?
The researchers recruited 104 men from casinos in Musanze, Rwanda during 2019. Participants completed a number of self-report survey items, including questions about their gambling, substance use, sleep quality, family relationships, and mental health. The researchers used a combination of Pearson’s r correlation analyses and regression analyses to examine relationships. First, they examined the correlations between gambling problems and all other variables. Next, they examined these relationships through a series of regression analyses that also assessed the role of family dysfunction as a moderator.
What did they find?
Nearly half (44%) of participants reported high-risk gambling, with 37% reporting moderate risk gambling and 19% reporting low-risk gambling (see Figure). As expected, people with more severe gambling problems reported worse drug and alcohol problems (perhaps due to self-medication), as well as more insomnia, anti-social behavior, and family dysfunction. However, among participants with relatively high levels of family dysfunction, the links between problem gambling severity, and drug misuse, alcohol dependence, and insomnia (but not anti-social behavior) were stronger, suggesting that family dysfunction elevates the risk for these gambling harms.
Figure. Proportion of participants in the low-risk, moderate-risk, and high-risk gambling categories, and correlates of high-risk gambling. Click image to enlarge.
Why do these findings matter?
These findings help explain the relationship between gambling problems and frequently comorbid conditions including substance misuse. Clinicians need to understand each individual client’s pattern of co-occurring conditions, including which are primary and which are secondary, to address the root causes of distress. In addition, improving our understanding of both the causes and consequences of gambling-related problems can help enhance evidence-based treatments, which can be administered earlier in the development of problems. For example, the results of this study suggest that evidence-based treatments focused on the family, such as community reinforcement and family training, may decrease substance misuse in addition to gambling by improving family functioning.
Every study has limitations. What are the limitations in this study?
This study’s recruiting strategy was rather limited. The authors employed a convenience sample that only included men gambling at a casino. As a result, their findings might not be representative of other gamblers and the rate of high-risk gambling should not be interpreted as a prevalence estimate. Additionally, due to the cross-sectional nature of the data, we cannot be certain whether one variable causes another. Future studies should include a wider range of participants and collect data over time to better assess causality.
Although Dianne is not a big football fan, she’ll never forget the Monday Night Football game between the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys on January 3, 1983. It was the first major bet her husband, Don, placed on a football game. He bet a whopping $1,500 – an amount to cover accumulated gambling losses to date – and lost.
More than 25 years later, Dianne shudders at the memory of that night. She looks back on it as the beginning of a 14-year period in which her husband’s gambling took the family on a roller coaster ride it never wanted.
Shortly after that Vikings game, Don’s gambling losses began to mount. It soon led to another early memory that haunted the family: his young children watched in dismay as a stranger came into their house to remove a Betamax machine, the sales proceeds of which would be used to settle gambling debt. In the first of many gambling-related lies to his children, Don explained that the machine was broken.
In time, Don’s betting advanced from football to all other sports, and he soon had his own bookie. “I bet every day of the year except the Monday and Wednesday before and after the baseball all-star game, the only two days of the year when there was no sports betting,” says Don.
After Don’s bookie was the subject of a police raid, federal agents dressed in suits and badges came to the house. That development sent shock waves through the family. “That really scared the kids and I felt we couldn’t have that,” says Dianne. She subsequently packed up the kids and moved in hopes of finding a more stable home environment.
The sight of an empty house served as the first wakeup call for Don. He began attending Gambler’s Anonymous in 1986 and convinced Dianne he was ready to quit. Only he really wasn’t.
Shortly thereafter, Dianne came across a piece of paper with a list of football games while the couple was away at a cabin. “I was assured by Don that they were old games because he’d quit gambling.” She later confirmed the list was for current football games.
As a result, Don became increasingly sneaky in his dealings. He cancelled handball games with friends and rearranged work shifts so he could find more time for gambling at the casino. Don learned to kite checks from three checking accounts he created, and found himself visiting a banker every day. “I could at least relax on the weekends when the banks were closed,” recalls Don some 20 years later. He was working one job and half of another “to keep all the balls in the air.”
Don forged his wife’s signature a few times to take out loans to pay gambling debts. With a flexible work schedule, Don, who controlled the family’s finances, arranged to be home when he knew the mailman would arrive, meeting him several houses in advance. “The joke was that I was having an affair with the mailman,” says Don.
The cycle of lies and deceit – as well as a general absence from the family – continued through 1994, about eight years after Don first attended GA. On Tuesday, December 27, 1994, he called in sick to work and cancelled a handball match with a friend so that he could stay at a casino. When Don, who called his wife every afternoon like clockwork, didn’t call at the usual time, Dianne suspected the worst. Late that afternoon, a call finally came. “Would you mind if I cashed another $100 check,” Don asked? “Do whatever you want, stay as long as you want, I don’t care,” said his defeated wife of 16 years.
Don came home in the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, but to a bedroom that was locked. He knew he’d hit rock bottom and had to stop gambling. He went to GA that night and has been attending religiously every since. That Tuesday night was the last time he’s every gambled.
Today, Don is well into his recovery and is a thriving member of society. He considers himself fortunate in that GA has helped him, and helped him at age where he can still repay his debts and hopefully accumulate something of a nest egg. Other gambling addicts require individual treatment and counseling to help in their recovery.
The road has been long and not without challenges. “It was particularly tough to quit at the beginning,” says Don. “Even several years into it, I remember seeing a list of football games and asking myself if the Packers would cover the spread, etc.” For her part, all these year’s later, Dianne’s stomach still turns when she sees her husband turn the channel from one football game to another, conditioned for so many years to think he’s checking on games he bet on.
Forgiveness, after so many years of deception, is difficult to grant. In Don and Dianne’s case, a more complete healing didn’t occur until well after Don had quit gambling and the couple had engaged in Retrouvaille, a type of marriage counseling that’s not unlike a 12-step program.
Thankfully, much of the damage caused by Don’s gambling has gradually healed. His daughter, who wouldn’t allow him to attend her high school graduation nor be part of her wedding, has reconciled with Don. “Our kids carried around a ton of hurt from what their father did,” says Dianne. “It seemed like every time we wanted to do something as a family, all the sudden he was gone. For the kids, it was one broken promise after another.”
Today, 17 years into his recovery, Don’s promises are as good as gold.
A paid article appearing in the Star Tribune, along side a digital ad.
Coping with Another Person’s Gambling Problem By Bill Stein for Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance
Maria suspected something was going on with her husband but didn’t know what. He was taking many phone calls behind closed doors. He often seemed frantic to intercept the mailman before the mail was delivered to their house. And his interest in the outcome of various sporting events seemed to intensify in the last few months. What could be going on?
It was only after the bank threatened to foreclose on their house did Maria learn that her husband had a sports gambling addiction that drained their finances.
Until then, she didn’t know that such a condition existed and assumed people just gambled with money they could afford.
Unfortunately, Maria’s predicament is not uncommon. Indeed, the plight of the concerned others of a problem gambler — which could be friends, coworkers or various family members — can be very challenging. The more they can learn about this poorly understood addiction, the better they can cope for themselves.
Signs of Problem Gambling
The first thing that can help concerned others who have a vague notion that something is going on with their family member, spouse or friend is to learn the signs of gambling addiction. Some of the more common indications of an underlying gambling problem include increased frequency of gambling, increased amount of money gambled, gambling for longer periods of time than planned, bragging about wins but not saying anything about losses, pressuring others for money as financial problems arise, lying about how money is spent, escaping to other excesses (alcohol, drugs, sleep, etc.) and denying there is a problem.
Additional signs of problem gambling may include frequent absences from home and work, excessive phone use, withdrawal from family, personality changes (such as increased irritability and hostility) and diversion of family funds. It’s also important to realize that problem gambling can affect anyone regardless of race, culture, sex and financial standing.
Gambling Addiction is often a Co-Occurring Addiction
Comorbidity is the term used to describe the existence of concurrent disorders in an individual. Studies have shown that people who struggle with gambling disorders tend to have other psychological problems such as depression, anxiety and substance-use disorders. For example, a survey in Psychological Medicine reported that 96 percent of lifetime compulsive gamblers also met lifetime criteria for one or more of the other psychiatric disorders assessed in the survey. If a significant other or friend in your life suffers from one type of addiction, be aware that that puts them at higher risk for gambling addiction.
Realize You’re Not Alone
It can be difficult for the concerned others of gamblers to come to grips with the situation. They may question their role and feel they are responsible. They may be in disbelief as they learn that bank accounts and retirement savings have been wiped out.
It’s important to know that you’re not alone. With an estimated 6 million of the general population at risk for developing gambling addiction, there are many people who find themselves in the orbit of a gambler. Organizations such as Gam-Anon help and comfort to those affected by someone else’s gambling problem. It provides a way to share experiences, gain strength and create hope in coping with the problem gambler.
Importance of Communication
Frequently, family members are in denial. Some family members, not fully understanding the severity of the situation, think they are helping by bailing out the gambler, yet they are not seeing the ramifications it has for the spouse.
Additionally, lack of communication is emotionally straining and isolating for concerned others.
A big part of recovery for both the gambler and family is honesty and trust. The lies and broken trust from the problem gambler can be difficult to repair.
However, it’s an essential part of a gambler’s recovery to be honest and to have open communication. Most people benefit from having someone facilitate those initial conversations.
How to Start a Conversation with a Problem Gambler
Talking with someone you know about a potential gambling problem can be difficult. It’s important to remember that you can’t stop someone from gambling; only they can make that decision. Choose the right moment to have the conversation and speak in a caring and understanding tone. Make sure you hear what the other person is saying.
For specific advice on how to approach a problem gambler, call the Minnesota gambling helpline at 1-800-333-HOPE to talk with a certified counselor. The helpline operates 24-hours a day, seven days a week. All calls are confidential.
Talking to Children
The children of problem gamblers often receive less attention and nurturing at home as a result of the amount of time the parents spend gambling. This can lead to feelings of abandonment, anger or depression, and the children may blame themselves for problems in the home. This can result in the child withdrawing or acting out.
Unfortunately, by the time families discover their loved one’s gambling problem, financial losses may already be significant. Bankruptcy or failure to make mortgage payments, car payments, college tuition, etc., may be part of the new reality. Families need to protect themselves before the gambler can deplete their family assets. Limiting or prohibiting access to family assets may be the first necessary step to take if the family hopes to rebound.
Another protection that families can take is the use of software that blocks access to gambling sites. Northstar Problem Gambling Alliance offers one such tool, Gamban, at no cost to Minnesota families who are interested. The subscriptions are effective for one year, can include up to 15 devices per household, and can block tens of thousands of online gambling sites.
For families, whose finances have been wracked by a problem gambler, developing a personal financial recovery plan is an important first step. Such a plan should include:
comparison of expense and debt obligations with income
a list of debt (creditor, balance, payment, status and timeline)
devising strategies to change income, change expenses or both when expenses exceed income
identification of a trusted family member or friend to assist management of personal finances
a resource list of current, reliable and free financial references
follow-up consultation with financial counselor during transition to life after treatment program
There is Hope, and Treatment Works
The most important thing to remember if someone close to you has a gambling problem, there is hope —for you and the gambler. Minnesota provides treatment for both gamblers and affected others, usually at no cost. Take the first step by calling the Minnesota gambling helpline at 800-333-HOPE.
For more information about problem gambling in Minnesota, visit northstarpg.org.
Cam Adair, in recovery from gaming disorder himself and founder of INTENTA (mission: to equip mental health professionals with resources on digital disorders to empower an intentional digital culture), provides some tips to help prevent gaming from becoming an addiction. He says it’s important to focus on maintaining key protective factors in the family, such as having a diversity of hobbies and interests (so gaming doesn’t become the only thing they do to fulfill their needs). He also encourages supporting well-being habits, such as sleep hygiene and physical activity, and to be consistent in your boundaries and limits.
As a gamer begins to play more excessively they will do all they can to increase the amount of time they can play. One strategy a gamer will implement is to remove barriers or obstacles that occupy time they could be gaming. They will stop doing sports, lose interest in other activities, manipulate your emotions and become the most effective lawyers in town to argue for maximum gaming time.
Stand strong and be firm in the values you hold for your family. It’s a lot easier to prevent gaming from becoming a problem than it is to turn the situation around once it’s become one.
I was five months pregnant with our second daughter in August 2014 when I received a call from my husband that would forever change my life. He told me he had won $20,000 at a casino — $10,000 in cash and $10,000 in a check. I figured we’d use the money towards paying off debt and giving generously to our church.
I was surprised by this news because I wasn’t aware that he was going to the casino. When I asked him about it, he told me he’d been going for a few months. All the while he seemed tired, but I knew that something was not right with him. I later learned that he’d been gambling a lot longer than a few months when I noticed gambling activity started to show up in our credit union accounts. I also discovered that he was using money he’d put away for our daughter and started dipping into his bill money. When I confronted him about it all, he always told me he could stop whenever he wanted.
He continued to gamble after our daughter was born. He eventually made a bad personal decision and lost the job he’d held for eight years in May 2015. I was working part-time and he was the primary breadwinner. Without his $45,000 income, we were in trouble. He continued a downward spiral into depression, anxiety, cross addiction with drinking, scratch off lottery tickets, candy crush and deeper into gambling.
The stress created by my husband’s addiction took a toll on me. My blood pressure spiked and I developed alopecia in the front of my hairline. That was a wakeup call!
By August, I sought help and learned about Gamblers Anonymous (GA) for my husband and Gam-Anon for myself. He went to GA once and refused to go again. But for me, going to Gam-Anon turned out to be the next big thing that would change my life.
On numerous occasions my husband admitted to me that he had a problem, but refused to seek treatment. After being separated for a few years I filed for divorce, which was finalized in June 2019 so I could chart my own path. I am now the primary breadwinner and speak at the annual GA/Gam-Anon conference. I have focused on my career as well as learning about addiction and recovery and how to better support people that come after me, because there will always be more addicts and families affected by addiction.
I was asked what advice I might give to other spouses and families who are going through the same thing that I went through. I would tell them that addiction is a time sucker, a hell of a roller coaster ride and that even in the midst of the storm they need to realize the importance of self-care — choosing joy and finding their own purpose.
It’s easy to become so co-dependent on the addict that you stop living your life. There are things spouses and family members can do to protect themselves if the problem gambler isn’t willing to get help. Some of these things include:
Knowledge is power — learn as much as you can about addiction and how it’s an actual mental illness.
Control your financial assets and don’t allow the gambler’s behavior to damage your credit or your mortgage.
Don’t enable and bail out the gambler by helping with gambling-related debts.
Get the support you need from people who understand your situation, such as what Gam-Anon offers.
These were hard lessons to learn. It’s unfortunate that I had to go through this but if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have a story to tell and be able to influence others. The ability to speak at an annual conference, for example, is a door that never would have been opened if I didn’t have a spouse that’s an addict.
One day, my ex-husband will realize what he has thrown away and will choose recovery for himself. For me, I am excited for new beginnings. To create new traditions and memories for my daughters. I’m in control of my future and looking forward to writing the next chapter.