How to Help the Compulsive Gambler

Once his fantasy evaporates, once he finally reaches a realization that the one big, elusive win is not "right around the corner" and that, even if it were, he would simply blow that as well on the machines and/or the tables, only then is the gambler ready to be helped. The question then becomes: What next?

For a rare few nothing comes next. They, like their fellow "rare few" alcoholics or drug addicts, quit "cold turkey" and simply move on.1 Certainly they are beset with the problems, financial, emotional, and relational, that they have incurred and have subjected loved ones to during their addiction, and these they must resolve, but the gambling itself they leave behind and don't look back.

Many, many more, though, need organized, professional help to point them in the right direction and lead them down the path toward recovery. They need therapy of some sort, either with a skilled professional or with a group, or in both settings during the same course of therapy.

Optimally, this therapy will serve a great many functions:2

  • It will successfully identify and treat co-occurring disorders like substance abuse and other problems.
  • It will help the gambler devise strategies to replicate the benefits of gambling escaping one's problems or limiting one's anxiety, for example, or getting the "high" the action provides in other, more constructive ways than gambling.
  • It will help the gambler take more responsibility for his actions, including the damage he has done in his relationship with his spouse and family the betrayed trust and highly curtailed lines of communication and especially the financial havoc he has wreaked, and seek to remedy these wrongs.
  • It will debunk all the erroneous beliefs the gambler harbors about gambling, such as his view on how luck operates and how, through his "system," he can exert his skills onto the odds.
  • It will augment the gambler's emotional skills, his problem-solving skills, his interpersonal skills, and his relapse prevention skills.
  • It will address underlying issues such as depression, the gambler's psychological relationship with his parents, his views of success and failure, and others, if such exist.

But its principal goal is simple and cannot be overstated: to change one's gambling habit and everything that destructive habit has wrought in the gamblers' lives and their families.

1 Linda Berman and Mary Ellen Siegel, Behind the 8-Ball A Guide for Families of Gamblers , rev. ed. (San Jose: to Excel Press, 1998), p. 194.
2 The following comes from Edward J. Federman, Charles E. Drebing, and Christopher Krebs, Don't Leave It to Chance. A Guide for Families of Problem Gamblers (Oakland: New Harbinger, 2000), pp. 187 94.

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