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Friday, March 01, 2019


I have questions.Can a person with gambling disorder gamble “a little”. That is, consider it success if they buy just one scratcher ticket? And should the spouse stop gambling also if their significant other has gambling disorder?

Thanks for your interest in The BASIS. Your question is very complicated because important issues are implicit within the question. First, you are assuming that “gambling disorder” is a permanent problem. There is evidence that some people recover from gambling disorder. This is most often obtained when the individual stops gambling and remains abstinent. However, in every area of addiction, there are people who can “chip” at their addiction; that is, there are people who can gamble “a little” and not relapse. Nevertheless, the evidence is consistent that this path to recovery is difficult and filled with potential obstacles. Despite my willingness to talk about “chipping” and consider a variety of using patterns to recovery among treatment seekers, very, very few have been successful “chippers.”

I have seen loved ones drink or gamble in the presence of someone who is working to avoid such behavior and move toward recovery. Though unintended, this often leads to relapse. Though few people recover in the midst of others who are gambling, it is possible. So, I am mentioning it. Perhaps most importantly, we need to ask why is this question being asked? What is the spouse’s objective here? Is abstinence, control or active gambling the goal? What makes gambling so important?

-Howard Shaffer, PhD, CAS

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The BASIS is a product of the Division on Addiction, Cambridge Health Alliance, a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital. The Division is an entirely self-funded academic organization that relies on grants, contracts, and gifts in order to produce The BASIS and our other high-quality work.