Mar 11, 2024

First Steps to Treating Compulsive Gambling: How to Help Compulsive Gamblers Recover

compulsive gambling

Today, wagering on anything has never been easier. Online casinos and daily fantasy sports are regularly marketed on TV and the internet, and they let you know just how effortless placing a bet from your smartphone is. Unsurprisingly, this convenience has made it easier for people with compulsive gambling problems to get on the path toward treatment — and underscores the importance of being vigilant to help those in need.

Compulsive gambling is a disease just like diabetes or Alzheimer’s, and affects an estimated 5.77 million people in the U.S., according to the most recent survey by the National Council on Problem Gambling. Yet, unlike diabetes and Alzheimer’s, whose research brings a cure closer everyday, compulsive gambling has only gotten harder to prevent.

If you are the loved one of someone with a compulsive gambling habit, you need to furnish yourself with the necessary information to help your friend, spouse, parent, or child with their addiction. The following is a list of things you can do to take to help a loved one that has developed a compulsive gambling habit.

Get Them to Admit That Something’s Wrong

Many people with addictions don’t even realize they have a problem, that’s why admitting you have a problem is often the first step of any rehabilitation. As the loved one of an addict, it may be up to you to help them realize they have a problem. A simple conversation in which you inquire about their well-being in a non-confrontational manner to show you are concerned can be a positive course of action here. Although they may deny they have a problem and become defensive, they may have also noticed this habit themselves and be appreciative and relieved someone cares enough to talk with them about it. If they are ultimately not receptive to admitting there is a problem, it is important not to reciprocate with similar emotions, and it may be best to table the conversation until things cool down.

Stay Away From Paying Their Debts

Compulsive gamblers will gamble away far more than they have in order to feed their addiction. They make ask you to help bail them out of a self-inflicted financial pit. Although you may be inclined to help, enabling behavior may make things worse in the long run.

This is because compulsive gamblers are known to “chase” their losses, meaning they continue to gamble in order to recoup their losses despite their poor track record. Where you see a vicious cycle, they see another opportunity to break even. This type of delusional behavior is a hallmark of the compulsive gambler, and needs to dealt with sternly by people who they approach for money even if it is difficult to say no.

Take Control of Their Finances

A gambling habit is an impulse control issue that affects a person's ability to control their impulses, even if they need the money involved for something else. In order to protect a compulsive gambler from themselves, it may be in their best interest to take control of their finances. This could mean paying the bills and controlling the family’s finances, if your spouse has a problem, in order to monitor spending. However, you should never cut off their access to the household’s financial resources if you have any reason to believe the gambler will become physically or emotionally abusive. In extreme cases, gamblers unable to get money may become desperate and assault a spouse or loved one or use emotional threats like threatening suicide or using the children as ransom.

Get Your Loved One Professional Help

Beating any addiction alone is difficult and a gambling addiction is no different. Your loved one’s recovery could be easier if they know they’re not alone and have support for their moments of doubt. Organizations like Gambler’s Anonymous host group meetings for recovering gambling addicts to share their stories.

Group meetings alone may not be enough, though, and professional help from a licensed therapist may offer more comprehensive treatment. A therapist will work with an addict to change unhealthy gambling behaviors and thoughts, and create strategies to deal with the underlying issues that cause a person to gamble.

Check if They Are Taking Abilify

Medication can be a cause of compulsive gambling. Recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that antipsychotic drug Abilify (aripiprazole) could cause compulsive gambling.

The compulsive-gambling side effect is already listed for the drug, which is used to treat schizophrenia, and in combination with other drugs, depression and other disorders. However, the FDA has determined the label did not fully reflect the true nature of the impulse control risk. If your loved one is taking Abilify, it may have caused them to develop a compulsive gambling habit.

The FDA says that urges for the compulsive behavior are directly tied to Abilify, and are known to disappear when the medication is stopped or the dose is lowered. However, a person should always consult with their doctor before stopping or reducing a prescribed medication.

For more information on the relationship between Abilify and compulsive gambling, visit our reference page.