Help - My Boyfriend Has Discovered Online Poker!

It is not uncommon for people with ADHD to have trouble with addictions or near-addictions.  In fact, it is so common that in Delivered from Distraction, Dr. Hallowell devotes an entire chapter to this topic and what to do about it.  One of the issues here is that computer usage, and gambling, can be a form of self-medication for those with ADHD.

One of our readers posted a comment that illustrates what a sudden uptick in online gambling by her boyfriend has done to her relationship:

"I feel completely ignored since my boyfriend has discovered online poker. He will sit and play this for hours on end leaving me to have to entertain myself at night mostly. I most often go to bed alone. I miss his company and the companionship. I've tried to discuss it several times but it just starts arguments. He accuses me of being controlling when I get upset about it. Once he even threatened to leave me. So now I just keep my mouth shut. He claims it is how he winds down and relaxes. The funny thing is he didn't wind down like this before or until recently. I could see playing a game or two but he will play continously and I am left alone. It is really depressing me and I feel ignored or as if there is something wrong with me not to mention being lo nely. I miss laying in bed at night and watching Southpark or something together. We talked and laughed. Now I go to be lonely and hurt while he sits at his computer until midnight or so. I've even tried to stay up later on some nights to meet him halfway but he won't budge. I work a 24 on 48 off schedule so it's not like he can't play it at all. He's got 24 hrs to play and he plays trust me. All I ask for is some time at night which he will begrudgingly give me about once a week. I really miss him and the time we used to spend in the evenings."

Walter Sherborne, a therapist from the Hallowell Center, had this response to her situation:

Dear Ignored: You are identifying two problems in your letter. The first is your boyfriend's online gambling, which certainly sounds compulsive in nature.  Compulsive behaviors, whether related to gambling, drinking, or sex, can easily become addictions. Compulsion is defined as "an irrational need to perform some action, often despite negative consequences". The key here is understanding that the individual experiences the need to be involved with a certain behavior regardless of the social and/or financial cost.

There are checklists online that highlight the many signs of compulsive gambling. Survey questions in part include:
  • Are you preoccupied with gambling?
  • Have you lied to friends and family members to conceal the extent of your online gambling?
  • Do you feel restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop online gambling?
  • Have you jeopardized or lost a significant relationship…because of online gambling?

The last question clearly applies to you and your boyfriend. He would be wise to complete one of the widely available online gambling questionnaires so that he can begin to evaluate how much of an impact this behavior is having on him, not to mention on you.

Now for the second issue you raise. Your boyfriend is spending most evenings online, you are alone and he threatens to leave you if you raise your concerns about his behavior. You find yourself wondering if you are good enough. As one member of a former group I once ran was famous for saying, "don't walk away from him….RUN!!!"  No one should allow themselves to come in second to another person's compulsive behaviors. It may be time to ask him to be evaluated by a professional experienced in treating online gambling.

If he agrees, you may have a found a way to create a strong partnership. If he says no, RUN! This response was written by Walter Sherburne, LICSW.  He is an individual and family therapist at the Hallowell Center and maintains a private practice. An expert in child welfare and mental health treatment, Mr. Sherburne is a consultant and speaker. He also runs mens and couples support groups for the Hallowell Center.  He can be contacted at [email protected].