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How to Stage an Intervention for a Loved One with a Gambling Problem

  • Practice

March is Problem Gambling Awareness Month. If someone you know is struggling with a gambling addiction, these intervention methods can be the first step toward recovery.

While research indicates that most adults who choose to gamble can do so responsibly, the National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that one percent of adults in the United States meet the criteria for pathological gambling. An additional two to three percent are considered problem gamblers.

Identifying the signs of gambling addiction can be the critical first step to getting help.

What Signs Should I Look For?

As with many addictions, gambling is considered a problem when the behavior patterns become destructive to personal and family relationships as well as job and career goals. The key indicators are:

  • An increasing preoccupation with gambling
  • A growing need to bet higher amounts of money and to bet more often
  • A restlessness or irritability when trying to quit
  • Chasing losses
  • The inability to stop gambling even when there are serious negative consequences

What is an Intervention?

An intervention, at its core, is a gentle but firm confrontation. Loved ones communicate how much they care, but also how much harm has been caused by the gambling behavior, with clear, concrete examples of what needs to change. Interventions require careful planning and are often undertaken with the help of an LCSW or licensed interventionist.

When confronting your loved one, it is important to provide specific examples of the damaging effects that their gambling problems have had on the lives of their family and friends. Present a prearranged treatment plan with very clear goals and guidelines, spelling out the consequences if your loved one refuses treatment.

How Does An Effective Intervention Work?

There are four general stages when conducting an intervention: validation, documentation, recommendation and consequences.

1) Validation

Create a safe and caring environment for the intervention. It is important to recognize that while you may be harboring feelings of anger because of your loved one’s behavior, the intervention has greater chances of success if you come from a place of compassion, concern and love.

Help your loved one to understand that you see them as more than just their gambling problem. Offer them specific examples of their positive traits and why you care enough about them to confront their damaging behaviors.

2) Documentation

A person struggling with an addiction will likely deny or downplay the severity of their issues. However, when faced with specific instances from multiple people, they are no longer able to maintain that denial.

It is important to offer specific examples that you have personally experienced or observed when interacting with your loved one. Provide as many details as you can remember, and then explain how your loved one’s behavior made you feel in those instances.

3) Recommendation

Ask your loved one to take a specific action to combat their gambling problem. This should be a prearranged plan that you have developed with the other participants in the intervention.

Examples of recommendations could include: attending Gamblers’ Anonymous, seeing a therapist who specializes in gambling addiction or agreeing to involve a third party in money management. A licensed interventionist will be able to help you come up with recommendations tailored specifically to your loved one’s situation.

4) Consequences

Help your loved one to realize that legitimate action must be taken. Explain that if they do not follow the recommendations in Step 3, there will be very real consequences. Be specific about what you will or will not do if they refuse to cooperate, and be prepared to follow through on what you say. Otherwise, the intervention will be ineffective.

This conversation can be difficult and uncomfortable for all involved, but an hour of discomfort is well worth the long-term health and happiness of your loved one. Open dialogue can help the person you love begin to move toward healing and recovery.

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