My 18 year old son is struggling with the compulsion to gamble; like a drug addict,
he's hooked on gambling, even stealing from us to support his "habit".
Five percent of Americans have a problem with gambling. Usually, there is an underlying
psychological condition that may respond to treatment.
We immigrated from South America 5 years ago. For two years my son has turned in failing
grades in school. Against my better judgment, I gave into his pestering and bought him a car.
Ever since, he's become uncontrollable. Now he's picked up a new obsession-gambling. For
months his gambling has eaten up our spare cash and savings. He stole our credit cards and
took cash advances without our permission. We are in grave debt, and despite our distress and
his promises, he still can't seem to stop. Help us, please. Tell us what to do.
Gambling is gradually becoming legalized in America and rapidly gaining social acceptance.
With surprising acceleration, it is securing more customers than any other so-called sport.
Pathological gambling, however, is a disease that can destroy families, financially and emotionally.
It leads to total selfish, reckless disregard for the welfare of loves ones, and one's future.
It can lead to pathological and criminal behavior to support itself, including lying, stealing,
check forging, embezzlement, robbery, and more.
The National Council on Compulsive Gambling reports that between 1-5% of the population has a
gambling problem, a disproportionately large number of whom are under age 21. The compulsion to
gamble is one of the most serious of addictions, especially since it has no physical symptoms and
is difficult to diagnosis, except anecdotally. Since there currently is no model for understanding
the causes of pathological gambling, there is no effective cure.
However, as with other addictive behaviors, an underlying psychological problem is clearly present.
Addiction is like an anesthetic that temporarily relieves inner conflict. Many addicts show emotional
immaturity and difficulty coping with the responsibilities of adult life. What better way to sidestep
and derail the whole issue of taking responsibility for oneself than by cultivating a habit with such
reckless and total abandon that all else pales.
One of my clients, call him Howard, used to be a top student until he started to frequent a casino
with a friend, allegedly to win money for his schooling. He started gambling all night and sleeping
all day, shifting to a nocturnal existence. Soon he began to fail at school. In the course of
therapy, I discovered his depression. Though oversimplified, I found at the core of his depression
his feeling of abandonment by his parents, who shifted responsibility for raising him onto
grandparents. I was able to get him to join Gambler's Anonymous, a 12-step program like AA.
Through therapy, support from the twelve-step program, and Harold's satisfaction from returning to
school, he is on the road to recovery. But he knows, for whatever core reasons, he'll always be a
gambling addict, and will have to guard against recidivism.
Gambling is an apparent symptom of deeper troubles. Your son needs help to stop his destructive
addiction and get at the source of his problem. Get him into therapy-the rest will be up to him.