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Pathological Gambling Interventions for the Family
Gambling continuing education MFT CEUs

Section 2
At-Risk Profiles for Problem Gambling

CEU Question 2 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Gambling
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track we discussed pathological gambling.  Our discussion focused on the cost of gambling, co-occurring disorders, and denial.

On this track 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
First, let’s discuss covering up and covering for the gambler. It was only a matter of time before bad things begin to happen because of the John’s escalating gambling problem. 

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 track in your next session? 

Category #2 - Attempting to Control the Gambler’s Behavior 
Next, let’s discuss attempting to control the gambler’s behavior.  As you are aware, it is axiomatic in addiction treatment that the addict himself must hit bottom before he can begin the grueling journey upward.  

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
In addition to covering for the gambler and attempting to control the gambler’s behavior, let’s discuss bailing out the gambler. Bailouts come in too many forms to number, but all share the same effect. Bailouts relieve the gambler from facing the consequences of his gambling excesses, and thus they arrest his plunge toward his bottom. In order to finally face his condition and do something about it, he must be forced to face the consequences of his actions, painful though they be. 

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
A fourth method of enabling is for the spouse or friend to cooperate with the gambler. This can be done by participating directly or indirectly. Not uncommonly, spouses of my gambling addicts enjoy gambling, too.  The gambling client will often tap this enthusiasm to both compromise the spouse and justify his own activity.  For example, if the spouse of your client goes to the casino with him, how hard can she be on him when he gambles? 

On this track 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.

On the next track 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. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Allami, Y., Vitaro, F., Brendgen, M., Carbonneau, R., & Tremblay, R. E. (2018). Identifying at-risk profiles and protective factors for problem gambling: A longitudinal study across adolescence and early adulthood. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 32(3), 373–382.

Broussard, J., & Wulfert, E. (2019). Debiasing of gambling beliefs and behaviors using a digital gambling accelerator. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 33(3), 337–348.

Leonard, C. A., & Williams, R. J. (2016). The relationship between gambling fallacies and problem gambling. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 30(6), 694–704. 

Wardell, J. D., Quilty, L. C., Hendershot, C. S., & Bagby, R. M. (2015). Motivational pathways from reward sensitivity and punishment sensitivity to gambling frequency and gambling-related problems. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 29(4), 1022–1030.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 2
What are four categories of enabling? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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