How to Heal from Grief and Loss While Living with Gambling Addiction

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How to Heal from Grief and Loss While Living with Gambling Addiction

Grieving is a natural process and a natural part of life. It is healthy to grieve any loss sustained in our lives. No matter how big or small, or what anyone thinks, only we can know when, how, and for how long we should grieve the loss. Most never consider the loss of a partner or relationship due to disordered gambling should include a time of grieving as well. Compulsive gambling is a hidden addiction. You can’t see or smell it like drugs or alcohol. So, what happens to an unknowing partner, spouse, or loved one when his or her partner is suffering from gambling addiction? At first, it may seem like that person is having an affair and in a way, they are; in the sense of playing machines, cards, or betting on their phone. Often, once the unknowing partner has found out about the problem, it is further on in the progression of gambling disorder and can be like a death to the relationship, creating loss and followed by grief.

Some of us have had some losses that we have yet to deal with. Some believe they can just shove it down and think it will eventually just go away. Some may be afraid to feel the loss or weren’t taught that it is normal to feel a loss, cry, or feel depressed. Unfortunately, some may feel suicidal, thinking they cannot get through the pain. If you or a loved one has ever have had suicidal thoughts due to problem gambling, please call or text the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine for Florida and speak with someone confidentially for help and support. Do not remain isolated in your grief – seek a sympathetic ear and express your feelings. Healing begins with sharing and openness with others.

If you are currently experiencing thoughts of suicide, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Both the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine and the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline are available 24/7.

There are many different losses that one can experience throughout life. Consider these:

  • Loss of a job
  • Neglect or abuse
  • Retirement
  • Divorce
  • Loss of youth
  • Death of a pet
  • Empty nest (children leaving home)
  • Partner addiction

Any loss is a significant change for anyone, and if you deal with it the right way at the right time, it can actually have a positive influence. It may teach you something about yourself, life, nature, or something about who or what you lost. Believe it or not, the loss and the grief it causes gives you an opportunity to grow. Many have losses from childhood still left unresolved. One of the main coping skills people naturally resort to, although not a healthy one, is to escape in some way. This can be by withdrawing from others or acting out in harmful ways to ourselves or others. Drinking alcohol to numb the pain is a generally understood coping mechanism, thanks to its frequent reference in fiction and pop culture – but it is far from the only one. Abusing illegal drugs, shopping/overspending, and gambling can also be used to escape and cope with grief, loss, and even stress.

Using gambling as an escape or coping mechanism is a risk factor for the development of gambling addiction, and the reason for this lies far below the surface. Gambling triggers neurochemical responses, lighting up dopamine and serotonin in the brain and making the gambler feel better for the moment, temporarily numbing the emotional pain of grief and loss. Herein lies the danger – gambling provides temporary feel-good escapism but will never progress anyone in overcoming a loss! Unfortunately, the result can be postponing the healing process for the loss while relying on gambling for quick relief and possible progression into problem gambling.

Dr. Markku Linnoila, clinical director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism says “as unlikely an association as it may seem from the surface, the subsequent behavior of grieving persons – possibly caused more by the biological changes than by the grief per se – may be related to the stimulus for the compulsions of some alcoholics, gamblers, and even arsonists. Biological changes that stem from the grieving process may be similar to the biological process that leads to compulsive behavior.”1 So not only is grief an emotional response to loss, but also a physical response, much like any addiction.

It is important to distinguish the difference between mourning and depression. With mourning, an individual can deal with the loss in a healthy way. There is a beginning and an end to it. You know when you have made it through to the other side, because you will feel a sense of release, understanding, and calm. In contrast, depression can last for years and take a physical toll on the body as well. With depression, you can feel like you are stuck in the sad feelings and other symptoms, whereas mourning is more natural, healthy, and short lived.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross worked with dying patients and wrote a book on the grieving process. She found the normal healthy stages we naturally go through are; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.2 You may jump back and forth with these stages but most importantly, it is ok to cry. It is healthy to cry. It will eventually lessen, and it is a healthy release both physically and emotionally.

Wherever you are in the grieving process for any reason, it is important to accept and process the loss over time. Your time. You will find your way after the loss and learn a new way to live, incorporating this loss. If you or someone you know is worried about problem gambling, contact the 24/7, Confidential, and Multilingual Problem Gambling HelpLine for Florida by calling or texting 888-ADMIT-IT. Live chat, self-assessments, and more information are also available on gamblinghelp.org.

  1. Sandy Rovner. Gambling and Grief: A Biological Link? October 30, 1985, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/wellness/1985/10/30/gambling-and-grief-a-biological-link/e8f98e75-0698-4a80-a6cb-ba0f5c11b7b4/
  2. “Five Stages of Grief – Understanding the Kubler-Ross Model.” Psycom, HealthCentral LLC, 22 Mar. 2016, psycom.net/stages-of-grief.

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