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He May Still Be Gambling

B&W foggy road

Lynne72 recently heard from her Loved One. He shared that he is doing well, but since he has struggled with multiple substances as well as gambling, it was hard to assess how well he’s actually doing. Should she leave out her concerns about the rest of it, or is this just turning a blind eye?

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Recently we received an email from our son letting us know that he is doing very well. He has multiple addictions – klonopin, alcohol and gambling. He has tapered his klonopin use to less than half and has not had a drink since December 5 "except for one experiment." He also shared that his personal life is going well and he has done a lot of self inquiry, taking responsibility for his actions and reactions. He did not mention his gambling use at all.
I responded thoughtfully and positively. As gently as I could, I wrote that in this new spirit of honestly and out of love and concern, I was wondering where he was in regards to gambling. I did not hear and then my husband asked the same question. Our son responded that he wasn't ready to talk about that.
While I am extremely happy that he says he is doing well and more so that he is sharing with us, I remain concerned about the gambling and the possibilities for devastation (my own tendency to worry?).
My question is- was a right to mention it at all as he reached out to us to fill us in? He is an adult and lives a few hours away. I struggled as I composed a response and tried very hard to be positive and supportive without being blind or blocking out my question as to his omission. How do we strike that balance? I did not want to offer heaps praise and congratulations only to find out a month from now that he has again found himself over his head with the problem with gambling specifically.


Communication between you and your son is good enough that he gave you an honest and unsolicited assessment of his efforts to stop the benzodiazepine (Klonopin) and alcohol. You asked about the gambling and he replied he wasn’t ready to talk about it.

Your son lives far from you, and you rely on the phone, texts and emails to gauge how he is doing.

You are concerned you messed up by asking your son about his gambling. We do say it is best not to ask directly about the use as this can be seen as confrontational by your Loved One, making him or her close down or back away.

Isn’t the status of the use or the status of accessing treatment always on our minds though?

Every time I get on the phone with my niece I am like a detective, trying to assess the level of use, risk, and motivation to get help – all without asking directly. I blow it most times, usually with some suggestion about treatment. I have done the groundwork to locate treatment and worked out the insurance so that she has some, but it is hard to stand patiently by as nothing seems to change.

But, as with you, what has changed is that she now voluntarily tells me she is drinking more when we talk, and she describes frightening scenes of losing control. My concerns are real. She trusts me enough to say what is going on mostly, I think, but I cannot be sure.

So I sit on the sidelines ready to pounce the moment she says she has had enough.

These calls can be awkward and scary. This is where reflective listening is useful. Learning Module 4 helps train us to refine this incredibly valuable skill.

“I understand, you’re not ready to talk about the gambling” is a way of using that skill in the moment you described. You asked him about his use (in this case, it’s the gambling) which likely made him want to close up. But even still, you can find a way to use the skills from Module 4. By practicing reflective listening here, the bottom line is that you’re showing him that you hear him.

Maybe this changes the conversation away from gambling (like he wants) or… just maybe… he says a little more about the gambling.

With an email exchange, you are working with less information – you can’t read the tone of voice or other subtle cues, and you miss out on the spontaneity of a “live” exchange. But you do have the luxury of being able to compose your response with care and caution – as you experienced. Try to use this opportunity to employ those lessons from Module 4.

If you can look at his use in separate categories, it may be easier to allow yourself to give him the heaps of praise he deserves for his efforts with alcohol and the klonopin, You can be specific in your language here: “We are so happy to hear that you’re making such great progress with the drinking and the klonopin. What a relief. This is hard work you’re doing. You sound like you’re in a good place. You must be so proud of yourself.” Since you don’t know about the gambling, there’s no need to include that in the praise. But since he’s been grappling with multiple addictions – and many people in this situation need to tackle them one at a time – he can still use your encouragement.

It sounds like you have that bridge we talk about with your son. This is the mark of progress! It is heartening to hear him want to tell you how he is working on the drugs and alcohol, and with self-inquiry in general. With CRAFT, this is the holy grail. It’s with this communication that you are given even a slight chance to help your son before the issues escalate significantly. Congratulations on having these open conversations.

Do we mess up occasionally? Of course we do. It is better to let him bring up gambling now that you have him talking voluntarily about the rest of it. It’s helpful if you can see that letting him bring it up does not mean you are being “blind” or disregarding the issues. You can reframe things so that you are owning your feelings and tendencies to worry in order to be straightforward and transparent with him – which is different than being confrontational, or straying “into the weeds” as we say. If you need to, acknowledge that you have a hard time not worrying, but let that sit without requiring a response or any information from him. This can show him that you are interested in seeking new patterns as well. It can be powerful for a Loved One to see or hear a family member being candid about doing their own work. Your son is an adult and he has the ability to appreciate these efforts.

Your question is a good one. “Gambling much dear?” Please cut yourself a break. You have little to go on, making it feel critical for you to dive into the topics most on your mind. Your contact is limited and you are worried. It’s understandable.

You have the communication bridge, and this is essential to be able to help when it's needed. Well done. Be gentle on yourselves. And don’t be shy about praising his progress and efforts. You can specify what the progress is with, but it’s progress either way, and for this you should be proud. His reaching out to you in this way is also something to be grateful for. He is doing a lot of work, and we’re happy to hear it. Thanks for writing in.



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)