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In the last section, we discussed pathological gambling. Our discussion focused on the cost of gambling, co-occurring disorders, and denial.
In this section, we will discuss another negative and unproductive response to gambling problems, that of enabling. As you are aware the family and friends of a client may end up making gambling easier through enabling the client to continue this activity.
I defined enabling for Sandra, John’s wife with the following definition. I stated, "Enabling can be defined as ‘any action that makes it easier for John to gamble." We will outline this often unwitting and well-meaning but nonetheless destructive response to gambling problems in four categories. These four categories of enabling are covering up and covering for the gambler, attempting to control the gambler’s behavior, bailing him out, and cooperating with him.
Four Categories of Enabling
♦ Category #1 - Covering Up and Covering for the Gambler
I explained to Sandra, "You may want to conceal the problems from your family and friends, but in hiding the behavior you are only protecting John from the consequences. It is also inevitable that John with his gambling addiction will eventually harm his relationships at work, with friends, or in his extended family. He might miss time on the job for gambling, he might alienate friends or relatives by reneging on family responsibilities, and you may take it on yourself to play a firsthand role in patching up these strained relationships."
Sandra stated, "I call his boss to excuse his lateness or absence. I take his side when a family member criticizes his behavior." I explained to Sandra, "When you cover up John’s behavior in these and other ways, you are deferring the consequences of his gambling and indirectly green lighting his further destructive behavior."
Think if you have a client that would benefit from listening to this section in your next session?
♦ Category #2 - Attempting to Control the Gambler’s Behavior
To explain this to Sandra, I stated, "Once the gambling reaches addiction stage, the gambling controls the gambler, not vice versa. If John doesn’t want to be helped, than he will not and cannot be helped. Trying to control the gambling thus becomes largely ineffective and even counterproductive. Most illnesses progress uninterrupted along a predictable path unless effective intervention is applied."
Do you find that because many spouses do not know they are dealing with an addiction regarding gambling, they believe they can control or even cure compulsive gambling on their own? Spouses wanting to control the gambling will employ every trick they think might be effective, from hiding car keys, to trying to dissuade gambling friends from associating with the client, to obligating the client to frequent time consuming family affairs, and even withholding conjugal favors.
Sandra, the wife of John, age 42, was one such spouse. I stated to Sandra, "The important thing to remember about attempts to control the gambling is this: they don’t work. In addition to giving John the opportunity to blame you for the gambling, you offer him the chance to rise up in indignation at some perceived slight and go gamble away his pain." Sandra stated, "What if I threaten to leave? Won’t that make him stop?" How might you have responded to Sandra?
I stated, "Even the threat to leave John is an attempt to control his gambling. A gambler in the throes of his addiction would likely see your leaving as a godsend. If you say that it’s either gambling or me and the kids, be prepared to hear, ‘Then I’ll take the gambling.’ One client told me that if his wife had left, that would have been perfect because then he could have felt sorry for himself and gambled his life away. In other words, like alcoholics, everything is fodder for the gambling addict."
♦ Category #3 - Bailing Out the Gambler
When a client’s spouse or friend reaps the whirlwind for him, he or she is only hurting the client. Bailouts run the gamut of enabling and rescuing behavior. They can take the form of assuming the gambler’s duties thus freeing his time for gambling pursuits. For example, Mary, the wife of Alan, age 36, stated, "I do a lot of things for Alan. I take our son Gabe to football practice. I take the cars to the shop. I do a lot of things that need to be done while Alan plays cards." Bailouts may also take a more recognizable form such as monetary bailouts.
To bailout a gambler monetarily may alleviate the crises short term, but may perpetuate the problem and reduce the gambler’s motivation to change. I stated to Mary, "You’re not helping Alan if you bail him out. You’re just allowing him the opportunity to go back in there and gamble more. And he’ll do it."
♦ Category #4 - Cooperating with the Gambler
In this section, we have discussed another negative and unproductive response to gambling problems which is called enabling. The family and friends of a client may end up making gambling easier through enabling the client to continue this activity. We outlined this often unwitting and well-meaning but nonetheless destructive response to gambling problems in four categories. These four categories of enabling are covering up and covering for the gambler, attempting to control the gambler’s behavior, bailing him out, and cooperating with him.
In the next section, we will discuss raising bottom. Compulsive gambling, like other addictions can be turned around. And though the responsibility of that reversal belongs to the addict, spouses and family members can facilitate the process. In my practice, I find that the addict must ‘hit bottom’ and want to change. Methods for raising bottom include no more bailouts, continued emotional support, deciding when to bail out, and knowing what to expect.