Gambling can become an addiction that destroys marriages because like all addictions it becomes clandestine, secretive and requires lying. Deceit destroys a marriage because sooner or later it is revealed. When gambling starts to undermine everyday activities like a job and home life, it’s no longer recreational; it’s addictive.
The spouse who gambles money meant to pay the mortgage or who borrows money to gamble, or who gambles to win more money to gamble, probably has slipped into the sinkhole of addiction. The person who loses sleep over gambling or who breaks the law to finance his or her gambling certainly has a problem. Like alcoholism, problem gambling follows a trajectory that includes “repeated, unsuccessful attempts to stop gambling.”
As many as two million Americans are “pathological gamblers,” according to the National Council on Problem Gambling, with as many as another six million Americans considered “problem gamblers, people whose gambling affects their everyday lives.”
Pathological gamblers describe their gambling in terms remarkably similar to language used by alcoholics and drug addicts, so it’s easy to understand the toll that such gambling takes on a marriage. Generally, the pathological gambler moves in an arc of decline punctuated by phases that end in hopelessness and despair, where a divorce happens. In some cases, the problem gambling simply proves too much for the marriage, and in his or her hopelessness the gambler’s deceit or secretive behavior alienates the other spouse. This arc of decline can take years to happen.
Pathological gambling assaults marriages. Problem gambling is associated with high rates of marital separation, child abuse, and alcohol abuse, and the members of the gambler’s family often suffer from “depressive or anxiety disorders.”
Courts, in some jurisdictions, consider gambling as “waste and dissipation” when it happens when the marriage is already breaking down, and in others it is considered if it happens anytime during the marriage.