Individuals with a gambling disorder will exhaust all accessible monetary resources to satisfy their addiction. Exhausting savings, selling property, cashing-in stocks, borrowing on insurance policies, taking out loans are common and often happen quickly and without the knowledge of other facility members.
With every asset expended, families find themselves in severe financial crisis which leads to feelings of fear, frustration, anger and betrayal.
Family members are often embarrassed to admit that a loved-one has a gambling problem. Shame, fear, betrayal, confusion, distrust are all emotional reactions that make life difficult. These difficulties carry over to every aspect of a family member’s life including their personal relationships, their work and interactions with other members of the family.
Gambling problems cause strong feelings. Family members may feel ashamed, hurt, afraid, angry, confused and distrustful. These feelings make it harder to solve problems. The person who gambles may even deny that there is a problem.
To avoid the emotional stress of “putting on a face” in light of the many family issues caused by gambling, family members, particularly spouses, may simply avoid social situations. This compounds the problem by denying family members access to much-needed support from others. It’s common for family members to lose friends do to unpaid debts. They engage less in intellectual and cultural activities. And because of anger and resentment toward the addicted gambler, there is also no comfort from, or closeness to, the gambler, leaving the family member to struggle alone.
Physical and mental health
There is a strong connection between mental health and physical health. For both the individual with a gambling disorder as well as the family member, anxiety, depression and stress reactions are common. These issues when untreated can lead to poor sleep, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, muscle tension, high blood pressure and many other physical problems. Due to financial limitations, many never seeking help for these issues until they become severe.
Emotional Burnout and Compassion Fatigue
Family members often bear the brunt of supporting, encouraging and trying to aid the problem gambler. While giving so much care to another, self-neglect is common. Over time, the multiple burdens of prolonged financial problems, emotional problems and physical health problems can result in emotional burnout. Burnout is a state of chronic stress that results in physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism, detachment, and in the worst cases, despair.
Emotional burnout may manifest as chronic fatigue, insomnia, problems with concentrating, loss of appetite, increased illnesses, anxiety, anger and depression.
Physical and Emotional Abuse
Family violence is more common when families are in crisis. Gambling problems can lead to physical or emotional abuse of a partner, elder parent or child. Children may be hurt due to pent-up anger. If this is happening in your family, get help right away. If someone is in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, please contact the Ontario Problem Gambling Helpline.
Suicidal thoughts and attempts
No other addiction has as high a suicide rate as gambling. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) estimates that one in five people with a gambling disorder will attempt to kill themselves, about twice the rate of other addictions. Whether attempted or completed, this can has devastating, life-long emotional effects on loved ones, spouses and children. Further, family members facing isolation, panic, finical ruin, divorce, and despair are also at higher risks for suicide.
For both the problem gambler and family members, risks for suicide are highest for those with a prior history of depression, past attempts or who misuse or abuse alcohol or other substances.