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Ask Asad: My father is a compulsive gambler – how do I help him quit?

Our family has earned a bad reputa­tion and we live in stress becaus­e of my father’s gambli­ng addict­ion

CREATIVE: AAMIR KHAN

CREATIVE: AAMIR KHAN

Sir,

I’m a son of a great father but he has the bad habit of gambling. His addiction has caused him great losses and we’ve asked him to quit numerous times but to no use. Sometimes, he stays away from gambling for a year but then gets back to it and loses again.

My father insists he has to repay our grandfather for all the losses he has caused him but our grandfather says he doesn’t want the money. I know my father doesn’t want to hurt us but he can’t seem to get out of this vicious cycle he’s stuck in.  

Our family lives in great stress because of this problem and we have earned a bad reputation because of my father’s gambling addiction. Please advise what we should do. How can we make our father quit gambling? How can we convince him that we don’t need his money but his time and love?

Sincerely,

Son of a Gambling Addict

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Dear Son of a Gambling Addict,

I’m sorry to hear about your predicament and the way you along with the other members of your family are suffering because of the gambling addiction of your father. It must be emotionally and mentally draining.

A gambling addiction can cause a lot of problems in a family. The gambler might end up lying, stealing, or owing massive amounts of debt to people around him in order to fund his addiction of gambling.

You may be upset with your father and rightly so. He may have lied to you in order to gamble. His financial situation may have jeopardised your lifestyle or purchases you had expected to rely on. You also had to deal with the reactions of other family members and friends who know about your father’s addiction and attempt to discuss it with you.

You may be struggling to understand your father’s addiction and might be asking yourself, “Why can’t he just stop?” Sadly, the answer to this question, and the solution to it, are not that simple.

Gambling addiction is an illness

Gambling addiction (pathological gambling) involves an inability to control gambling which can lead to psychological issues, as well as financial, professional, and legal consequences.

Gambling can activate the brain’s reward system, much like other addictions, which can make it very difficult to quit. Gambling addicts feel a ‘high’ when they gamble – just as alcoholics do when they drink and drug addicts do when they use their choice of legal or illegal drugs. The only difference is gambling doesn’t require problem gamblers to ingest anything to reach a euphoric state.

Your father’s addiction to gambling can only be controlled when your father, you and the rest of the family members understand that gambling addiction is a disease. It’s not a bad habit, carelessness or reckless behaviour and it’s not a sign of a lack of care for the family at home. Those are misconceptions – some of the myths of problem gambling. Just like addictions to drugs and alcohol, this addiction is a disease. It’s a mental health issue, and that is why it is so hard for him to stop.

However, with the right support and/or treatment, many people with gambling problems have recovered and lead healthy lives with their families. However, as with any addiction, people with gambling problems have to be really ready before they can make a lasting change.

Getting your father to give up gambling will be hard and difficult but it’s possible. Below are a few ideas that hopefully will help.

Talk to your father frankly

Talk to your father about his gambling addiction in a frank and open manner. But stay calm and do not get angry or upset; that will be counter-productive. Explain the consequences that have arisen from his behaviour and remain logical as you present facts about the harm and damage his compulsive gambling has led to.

Your father needs help from a professional

It is very difficult to overcome compulsive gambling without the help of a mental health expert. Many gambling addicts believe that giving up gambling is no big deal and they can give it up whenever they want. This is incorrect. They are just fooling themselves. If it was so easy they would have quit long ago.

Realising that gambling is a serious addiction, that it is not so easy to stop, is the first step towards recovery. Belittling the severity of its addiction will just make it worse. Individuals, like you father, who have progressed to severe gambling disorders, facing loss of family, friends, property, money, etc. are more successful in quitting their gambling addiction when they seek the help of trained professionals.

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There are a number of different kinds of gambling treatment. The severity of your father’s addiction, the location you live in and your personal preferences will guide which you choose to help you get on the path to recovery.

You might choose one or a mix of the following:

  • One-on-one counselling with a certified counsellor who specialises in addiction.
  • Group counselling (or group therapy) in which multiple people with gambling addictions share their stories and learn from each other.
  • Behaviour therapy is a common form of treatment for gambling issues. This type of treatment uses systematic exposure to the behaviour you want to unlearn (gambling) and teaches you skills to reduce your urge to gamble.
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is another effective form of therapy which focuses on identifying unhealthy, irrational and negative beliefs and replacing them with healthy, positive ones.
  • Some gamblers respond well to antidepressants, narcotic antagonists and mood stabilizer medications. Often times, a person with a gambling addiction also suffers from bipolar disorder, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder, so medication or therapy to treat those conditions can alleviate gambling addiction.

You might not know right away what type will be most effective for your father. The type of treatment that works for one person might be vastly different than what’s effective for someone else. Taking your father to see a professional therapist, doctor or psychiatrist can help you in making the right decision.

Your father needs your help

Compulsive gambling is a serious addiction that can cause severe consequences and can be a long, hard road. Your father may get discouraged or feel hopeless. You can help your father by getting him to acknowledge the problem, seek treatment, make lifestyle changes, and supporting him in whatever way you can in quitting his gambling addiction.

Identify what triggers your father to gamble

Most compulsive gamblers have specific triggers that will make them want to gamble. These triggers are situations, items, moods, or feelings that may lead to compulsive behaviour or relapses. Help your father identify his triggers. This can help him in knowing what to avoid or allow him to learn how to cope when faced with these triggers.

  • Money is a common trigger for compulsive gamblers. This is a double-edged sword: having extra money (more than he needs) can trigger gambling and having less money (less than he needs) can also trigger gambling.
  • Free time or boredom may lead to gambling.
  • Being near a place of gambling, such as a casino, horse track, lottery cards, etc. may trigger someone to gamble.
  • Extreme highs or lows in moods may trigger the gambling impulse.

Help him with his finances

You may want to help your father in getting his finances in order. Compulsive gambling can lead to serious financial consequences and debt. The gambler may be at a loss with how to get things back in order, so you can help him figure out how to approach his financial situation. For example, you may help him give the control of his credit cards and bank accounts to someone he trusts, like your mother or you. Seeing a financial planner might benefit too. If that is not an option, then sit down with your father and try to come up with an action plan to manage his finances.

Make a list of reasons with your father for not to gamble

Your father may benefit from a list of reasons he wants to stop gambling that he can keep with him. This list can help him if he feels the urge to gamble. He can read the list before making the decision to gamble, and hopefully avoid a relapse.

Encourage your father to make the list himself and come up with his own reasons. He should come up with his own personal reasons for not gambling, like not wanting to disappoint his family, not wanting to lose their trust, increasing his debt, etc.

The above was a list of ideas to help your father in giving up gambling. But he is not the only one who is suffering from the consequences of his gambling addiction. You and your family also are suffering from the effects of his addiction. Therefore, you and your family also need help in going through this challenging time of your life. Below are a few steps that will hopefully help you and your family in dealing with this situation better.

Process your feelings

Depending on your relationship with your father, you may have many negative emotions to work through. You may feel betrayed, angry, frustrated, ashamed, or sad. You may have lost trust in him as a person that you care about, and the relationship may have changed for the worse. These emotions are common when dealing with a gambling addict. Allow yourself to process and work through the emotions. Don’t try to suppress them.

Talk to your father about the way you feel

You may even want to talk to your father about how he has made you feel. For example, you can say, “I feel very hurt by your gambling. I am ashamed that we have debt and I am upset that our family has a bad reputation amongst relatives”.

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Don’t blame yourself

Sometimes close family members – spouse and children – of problem gamblers wonder if it was something they did that drove the gambler towards his addiction. That is not the case. You did not cause it, and you cannot single-handedly stop it. Remove that pressure from yourself and do not feel guilty. It was no choice or action of yours that caused this addiction in your father. Remember, just as you didn’t cause your parent’s gambling addiction, you also can’t make them recover.

Take care of yourself

If your father isn’t ready or willing to get help for his gambling problem yet, the best thing you can do is take care of your own feelings and safety. Doing things you know you enjoy, like playing your favourite album, or practicing a sport you like, will improve your mood and make it easier to handle the stress of your situation.

Get support

Having a father with a gambling problem can be difficult, especially if you feel like you have to handle it alone. You will feel less lonely if you surround yourself with friends you feel understand and support you. Someone you trust, like another relative, can help you figure out ways to help yourself and your family. It can also help just to vent about your feelings.

Don’t focus on the past

Don’t obsess about your father’s gambling losses or the way things could have been. That is unhealthy thought pattern. Part of moving on and recovering is accepting what has happened. Dwelling on the past will do nothing for you or your father. Instead, acknowledge what happened, accept that it is a fact and move on. Focus on the future and what can be done to make things better.

It’s going to be a long and difficult journey – both for your father and your family – but with your help, support and commitment and his dedication and perseverance, it is possible to get rid of his gambling addiction. I wish you success in this.

All the best!

Asad

Asad is a counsellor, life coach, inspirational speaker and a personal-development expert. He advises on social, personal and emotional issues. You can send him your questions for this weekly column at [email protected] with “Ask Asad” mentioned in the subject line and provide as many details as possible.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Express Tribune.

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