Contributed by Mélissa Côté, Ph.D. Candidate in Psychoeducation, Université du Québec à Trois‑Rivières.
Rationale/background of my study:
To date, the literature gives a comprehensive picture of the negative impacts of problem gambling on various aspects of the lives of partners of pathological gamblers (PG). Partners of PGs use a combination of coping strategies to counter the PG's gambling activities. Some intervention models deal with such coping strategies and are based on the assumption that partners of PGs can play a key role in not only changing the PG's behaviours, but also in maintaining their own well-being. However, to date, few studies have closely examined the strategies employed, the means by which strategies are applied (how they are concretely implemented), and the desired results (the partner's specific intentions in implementing a strategy).
Key findings of my study:
Results show that partners of PGs used 30 different coping strategies. These strategies were grouped into two main goals, which are both related to the partner's intention behind the use of a strategy. This is a new concept which has not been done before. The first main goal was to reduce or completely stop the PG's gambling behaviour. We found 18 coping strategies categorized into 8 specific objectives. The second main goal occupied an important place in the participants' statements but slightly less so than the first goal. This goal was to increase the well-being of the partner, couple and family. This category contained 12 coping strategies categorized into 7 specific objectives. It is important to note that the present study allowed us to identify new coping strategies that had not been detected in earlier studies on this topic. More precisely, we identified 10 new strategies. For example, a strategy of emphasizing how positive the atmosphere is in the family and in the couple when the person is not gambling; and another strategy of reminding the PG of possible future negative consequences if he or she continues gambling.
An analysis of the usage context also illustrated the many potential interactions between individuals and their environment, which can trigger the use of a particular strategy. In some cases, knowing the context was necessary to understand why a coping strategy was used. Generally speaking, both partners had a similar perception of the strategies used.
Lastly, an evolution in the implemented strategies was observed, in particular when partners had the impression that strategies they had been using were having no effect on the PG's habits, when problem gambling habits took root over time, when the PG or their partner began treatment, or when the PG became totally abstinent.
Take-away messages relevant to professionals working with people with gambling problems, their partners and their families:
By applying a multitude of coping strategies, people close to the PG can play a key role in influencing their gambling patterns. People close to the PG should not be assumed to be powerless to cope with their loved one's dependency behaviours. Indeed, they should be seen as active agents against stress, in addition to having the ability to improve their own psychological and physical health. Hence, when a person is still actively gambling, their partner can help them reduce the desire to gamble through different strategies (i.e., remind the PG of possible future negative consequences if he or she continues gambling; try to reduce sources of stress that push the PG to gamble; suggest activities other than gambling).
Conversely, some PGs reported that pressure from their loved ones spurred them to seek help. For PGs who became abstinent, receiving daily support from a partner was also paramount to help avoid a relapse.
Next steps in my research:
Results from this study underscore the importance of conducting more research on the subject and equipping clinical settings to respond to the diversity and complexity of coping strategies used by partners of PGs. Accordingly, three scientific articles will soon be published on the following topics:
1) Evaluating the real impact of coping strategies on a PG's gambling behaviours to identify which strategies increase their desire to gamble, and which ones help them reduce these cravings or remain abstinent.
2) Evaluating the impact of various strategies on the well‑being of partners of PGs.
3) Through a questionnaire combining all of these coping strategies as well as those identified in other studies, a computerized feedback protocol will be developed to support intervention programs for couples in which one partner is a PG.
To learn more, read Mélissa's article in the Journal of Gambling Issues here.