Gambling and Shopping

A gambling as well as a shopping addiction are in fact, addictions. These are widely misunderstood addictions as they are an activity — process addictions — that are pursued by individuals as a coping mechanism for interior, emotional discomfort and stress. The official definition of a “process addiction” is as follows:

“Process addictions are addictions to an activity or process, such as gambling, eating, spending, sex, and work. As to whether they are real addictions, the prevailing view is that they are. At least, they share commonalities with substance abuse addiction.”

The American Psychiatric Association officially classifies a gambling addiction as an impulse-control disorder. A shopping addiction, also known as “compulsive buying disorder,” is also now considered an impulse-control disorder.Even more specifically, these addictions are associated with a mental health condition known as obsessive-compulsive disorder. The obsessive part of these addictions refer to a person thinking or acting obsessively, in this case, obsessively gambling or shopping. The compulsive part of this disorder is what drives a person to act out an insatiable obsession in order to alleviate stress, anxiety, or any level of unprocessed emotional pain. One of the primary ideas shared regarding impulse control disorders, such as gambling or shopping (acquisition), is an inability to self-govern emotional regulation. Harvard Health Publications state that when gambling addicts, as well as an other impulse-disordered addicts for that matter, refrains from their activity, they experience restlessness, high levels of frustration and irritability, impatience and easily short-circuited emotional capacities, all of which are fundamental symptoms of withdrawal.

The Shock of Financial Strife

A gambling or shopping addiction can go undetected for a long time, so many partners and families are utterly surprised by the discovery of massive amounts of money having been lost or spent. Many relationships do not survive the aftermath of a these types of highly consequential addictions, while many others struggle through the challenge of it across years.

Can These Addictions Be Healed?”

Individuals can recover from a gambling as well as a shopping addiction, but it’s a process that takes patience, understanding, and treatment. It’s important to not make hasty, longer-term decisions about your relationship while you are faced with the fact that one or partner(s) is dealing with a process addiction of this nature.

The Effect of a Gambling or Shopping Addictions on a Partner

Living with a gambling addict or shopping addict can be devastating. The non-addict partner may find him/herself in a state of emotional turmoil, fear, and aggravation, all the way to feelings of downright rage. Over the years, we have witnessed the issues suffered by the partners of various types of process addicts, and the suffering of the partners themselves also needs to be addressed and treated. The reactive, in-response coping behaviors of the partners of process addicts may include but are not limited to:

  • The unending impulse to be perfect to “pick up the slack” or to compensate for partner consumed by the addictive behaviour
  • The need to keep everyone in the family happy as a way to ensure that others (the children) are not at fault
  • The need to rebel, which draws attention away from the gambling addict
  • The feeling of giving up, of apathy, a withdrawal from one’s own life
  • The desire to shame the addict, using guilt and shame to try and coerce the addict to stop
  • The inability to get honest about the problem faced. Being defensive with others, making apologies to family and friends, employers or employee
  • The desire to control the addict, setting physical or emotional limits that prevent the gambling addict from gambling

These reactions are perfectly normal; however, be aware that they can enables the gambler or results in them hiding the problem.


The impact of a gambling addiction can be security-threatening, often resulting in the loss of a family’s financial security and stability:

  • The devastation of money, the savings, private property or other precious belongings
  • The mounting of feelings of hurt, shame, anger, fear, mistrust and utter confusion
  • The withdrawal of personal contact, leading to isolation and a loss of intimacy
  • A destruction of friendships and family connections due to unpaid debts and friends and family feeling betrayed
  • An increase in levels of anxiety or feelings depression, including thoughts of suicide
  • An increase in stress-related physical ailments (headaches, muscle pains, poor sleep, ulcers, bowel problems, auto-immune disorders, etc.)
  • A tendency toward burnout, caused by one or the other in the relationship trying to manage the problems created by the gambling addiction, alone

Treating the Addiction, Treating the Relationship

At Marriage Therapy Institute, we not only treat the addict who is suffering from the addictive behaviour, but we treat the partner’s residual suffering, and then we treat the relationship as well. These are the critical three overlapping components of the issue that are necessary to attend to, for longer-term healing and overall success.

Free Consultation

Contact us for a free consultation about what you “might suspect” you are dealing with, and let us assist you in taking whatever necessary next steps are available to you.

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