My 25-year-old son is depressed and in the habit of gambling. His manual job seems to get him down and he feels worthless as in our family both parents are graduates, as is his younger sister – he feels the only way out of his “inadequacy” is going to the bookies so that “one day” he will win enough so as not to have to work any more.
Typically, he gambles most of his income within a fortnight. As he lives at home and his dad lends him money when he needs it, it gives him the confidence to continue with his obsession. I must stress that Dad has control over his account and ensures that he receives the money my son owes him each month after he gets paid.
He is not happy about his addiction but refuses to see our GP, dismissing the possibility that he will understand his condition or help him in any way.
My relationship with my son has never been great. I do care for him and love him but feel constrained by his reactions. Each time I suggest something, he finds it patronising and dismisses it before he even hears it.
I showed your letter to three counsellors and a specialist in gambling addiction. The first thing they all, separately, picked up on was this thing about him being the only one in the house without a degree. I wonder where along the line this has become such a token of self-worth in your family.
I had a lengthy chat to Adrian Scarfe, head of clinical training and development at the gambling problem charity GamCare, (gamcare.org.uk, helpline: 0808 8020 133). He helped me to understand why some people gamble: it can be because of the adrenaline buzz; it elicits a high level of brain activity and the release of serotonin and dopamine. Some people like taking risks or seeing how far they can go without losing.
In your son’s case, as you’ve said, it’s to elevate him out of his feelings of inadequacy by trying to win large amounts of money (which is extremely unlikely). Gambling is different to other addictions because of its association with money and what money can provide. In your son’s case, he thinks that money will bring him a status he doesn’t have.
I appreciate that you want to help your son, but it’s not easy for a gambler to get help or acceptance of their problem from within the family – they are simply too close. And your son’s reluctance to go to the GP is not unfounded. GPs can be great, but not all of them understand about gambling. What your son needs is specialist outside support from people who will understand what he’s going through.
Importantly, it sounds as if your son wants to do something about his problem, though he might feel conflict: he may fear it won’t work and he may fear that it will: ie, if the help he gets is successful, he will be made to stop his addiction. Hence the need for specialist support.
Suggest to your son that he looks at the GamCare website. It offers various levels of counselling and support, it’s all free and the waiting lists are short. After an initial assessment, he can have weekly counselling either via instant messaging (which is popular as you don’t need to speak to anyone), Skype, on the phone or face to face at local centres (these cover 60% of the country). There are even educational groups where family members can go to help them gain a better understanding of the problem.
The counsellors are fully trained and will work with your son to help him to understand why he gambles.
Strategies for quitting or cutting it down to a controllable level include setting limits or self-exclusion, which can be done online if he gambles online, where he can fill in a form and provide a photo to essentially ban himself from one betting shop or a whole chain of them, for anything from one to five years (betting shops must adhere to this ban as they risk losing their licence if they let in someone who has self-excluded).
If it’s just online he can also block himself from certain sites. GamCare can talk him through all of these options. I would also suggest you and your husband ring the helpline to find out how you can support your son in getting the help he needs. Good luck.
Source: The Guardian