Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Kyle MacDonald: How much can you really help someone with an addiction?

Gambling is one of the easiest addictions to hide. Image / NZ Herald
Gambling is one of the easiest addictions to hide. Image / NZ Herald

"How do you survive a relationship with a control freak gambler who blames every problem with money on me?"

There is little doubt gambling is an addiction. I worked for a gambling helpline while I was training to be a therapist. Here I heard firsthand the terrible effects and destruction uncontrollable compulsions to gamble inflict on people and their loved ones.

One of the things I heard time and time again was the way partners were often shocked at the extent of the problem, and that it had been hidden from them for so long. It isn't obvious a person has a gambling problem, they aren't intoxicated or hungover. It's one of the easiest addictions to hide.

People struggling with an addiction also hide from themselves. Gambling is like every other addiction in that people who are suffering are generally in denial about both the extent of their compulsions and their financial losses. Unique to gambling is also the idea that the next "big win" is just around the corner.

Sadly, what I take from your question is that this is someone deep in denial about their gambling and aiming their anger about the financial situation at you: either because it prevents their further gambling or protects them from the full impact of their addiction.

But without question the biggest struggle for someone in a relationship with an actively addicted person is not the impact of the addiction, but to recognise the limits of the help we can provide.

Too often the emotional roller coaster of hope, disappointment, anger, belief in change and relapse, can blind us to reality. Our efforts to help - whether taking over the finances or simply dragging them off to therapy - come to nought if the motivation to change does not spark in the person themselves.

Ultimately the painful realisation is one that Alcoholics Anonymous (and its cousin, Gamblers Anonymous) makes clear as the starting point for recovery: To accept that we are powerless over the addiction. This is also true for those who love them.

You are powerless when it comes to fixing their addiction.

But you can take steps to protect yourself, and to reset what behaviour you will and won't tolerate. You can also get clear about the consequences for breaching these limits. This isn't about tough love, or issuing ultimatums, these approaches seek to use the relationship to try to change the other.

Instead I suggest you start by getting very clear about what you can and can't control. As painful as that process can be, it is vital if you are to disentangle yourself from the consequences you face.

Your loved one may or may not choose to stop their gambling, but you don't have to stand by and watch them destroy themselves. You certainly don't have to gamble with your own future.


• Questions will remain anonymous

Where to get help:

• Gambling Problem Helpline: 0800 654 655,
Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youth services: (06) 3555 906 (Palmerston North and Levin)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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Kyle MacDonald is an experienced psychotherapist and regular co-host on the NewstalkZB mental health awareness show The Nutters Club.

Kyle MacDonald is in private practice at the Robert Street Clinic in Auckland. For more: or his Social Anxiety resource site:

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