Exposing the Dark Side of Gambling Addiction

Children & Gambling: Where Did My Family Go?

By Annie Mueller
For Casino Watch Foundation

Let's take a look at what the typical progression of a compulsive gambler's life does to his family. The Custer Model of Addictive Gambling, created by Dr. Robert L. Custer, identifies three main phases of gambling addiction: winning, losing, and desperation (1). 

The winning phase sets off the addiction because of the thrill the gambler receives; subsequently he gambles more and the winning streak will soon end, leaving him with loss after loss in the losing phase. He will begin gambling more in order to recover losses and exhibiting more erratic and problematic behavior. It is during the losing phase that the gambler's family begins to feel the extreme effects of this addiction, though many family members may not realize how significant the problem is yet.

The desperation phase follows, in which the gambler spends more and more time gambling to the detriment of his finances, family life, job, and health. During this phase many gamblers turn to illegal activities to fund their gambling. The effect on the family at this point is undeniably devastating, often including abuse, separation or divorce, mental or emotional breakdowns, and total financial devastation.

HelpGuide, a non-profit Internet resource center, identifies a fourth phase in the addiction progression: hopelessness, during which “almost all pathological gamblers consider suicide and about 20% will attempt it” (2).

During this progression, the spouse and children of the gambler are left to deal with the consequences. The effects may be minimal at first, nothing more than less time together as a family, the loss of extra money, and a member of the family who seems to be inexplicably irritable. Soon, however, the effects are extreme: the gambler will often steal from family members or lie to get more money from them. Trust is broken. The stress of the financial burden on the spouse of the gambler will often lead to emotional breakdown, and the gambler himself is very likely to become verbally and/or physically abusive to both spouse and children. The world has turned upside down for the whole family at this point.

Things only get worse as the gambling continues. Some spouses of addicted gamblers may choose to get a divorce, but they must still deal with the after-effects: financial devastation that usually ruins their own credit rating, possible eviction, the need to take on another job to support themselves and their children alone, and the emotional horror of being cheated, lied to, robbed and abused by a person once loved and trusted. The children often question if it is somehow their fault; they become depressed, exhibit behavioral problems, their grades drop, and they are drawn to drugs and alcohol.

The effect of one person's addiction to gambling spreads far beyond the one to the many others with whom he is connected. Relationships break, money disappears, and the stability of a home and family are destroyed by the uncontrollable addiction. Addicted gamblers need help in order to recover and resume a normal life; no less do their spouses, their children, and even the extended family who may well have covered their financial losses.

1. From the research of Dr. Robert L. Custer. "Pathological Gambling: An Addiction Embracing the Nation." Article written and published by the Illinois Institute of Addiction Recovery. 2005. Accessed 29 October 2007. http://www.addictionrecov.org/aboutgam.htm 2. Dorsey, John and Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., contributed to this article. "Gambling Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment." Last modified on: 1/28/07. HelpGuide; A Trusted Non Profit Resource. Accessed 29 October 2007. http://www.helpguide.org/mental/gambling_addiction.htm