‘I’m afraid to tell my spouse’: I maxed out my credit cards and racked up $100,000 in debt due to my gambling addiction. Can you help?

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‘i’m-afraid-to-tell-my-spouse’:-i-maxed-out-my-credit-cards-and-racked-up-$100,000-in-debt-due-to-my-gambling-addiction.-can-you-help?

I’ve gotten to a point where I need serious help for my gambling addiction, though I’m not at rock bottom yet. I am a journeyman-level employee with about 20 years’ experience at my current job. I am married with one child in a state with a very high cost of living. My spouse has been a stay-at-home parent ever since our child was born, so we are also a single-income family. 

My salary is in the low six figures, but I also receive supplemental monthly income for being a disabled veteran. We, as a family, tend to live beyond our means, but I amplify that with my secret addiction. I have maxed out all the cash advances on my credit cards, and between those cash advances and lifestyle purchases, I have racked up close to $100,000 in debt. 

I have a home-equity line of credit on our house, and I have taken out and lost another $10,000 from that. I have the overwhelming urge to take out another $7,000 to $8,000 to make it all back and deposit $20,000 into the account. Just typing this makes me realize how desperate and stupid this sounds. 

I am afraid to tell my spouse because I’m sure divorce will immediately be on the table, and rightfully so. Although my spouse tends to spend beyond our means as well, I feel like my addiction is much worse and will ultimately be the demise of our family, lifestyle and any chance of a future relationship I may have with my spouse and child. 

I don’t know where to start or how to break it to them. I did attend one online Gamblers Anonymous meeting so far, but I left there feeling worse. Please advise what you think the best course of action should be. I appreciate your time.

Headed for Rock Bottom

Also see: My father set up a trust for my troubled sister, and asked me to be the trustee. I don’t want to disappoint him. What could go wrong?

Dear HRB,

Anything you do in secret will lead you to an even worse place, and whatever you think rock bottom is today or tomorrow, it can always get worse. So don’t wait until you hit some idea you may have of rock bottom. The only way you can deal with this addiction is by shining a light on it. You need to free yourself from the secrets and the shame.

You can do that by continuing to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings. They are not designed to make you feel better after one meeting — they are there to provide group support, a safe space and the tools to help you accept that you have a problem and that you are powerless over your addiction, and to acknowledge that you are truly willing to take the necessary steps to deal with it. 

Ask the others in the group how they went about telling their family. It’s important that you have the support of your family and that you tell your spouse what kind of financial situation you are dealing with so you can navigate your way out of it together. Your spouse may be angry with you, but ultimately you will both need to get to a place where you can make amends and start repaying your debts.

There are several approaches you can take to pay off your debt. The “debt avalanche method” starts with the debt with the highest interest rate (credit cards, for example), while the “snowball method” starts with paying off the smallest loans as quickly as possible. Or you could do a combination of the two. What you need is a realistic plan of action to keep you motivated. Read more about that here.

You have a disease, but you are not alone. An estimated 2 million adults in the U.S. have a gambling addiction, while another 4 million to 6 million adults are thought to have mild or moderate gambling problems, according to the National Council on Problem Gambling. And for every person with a gambling addiction, seven to 20 other people are affected.

Here’s the good news: You have already acknowledged that you have a problem. That’s huge. Some people never take that first step. So give yourself kudos for doing that, and use the momentum to invite support into your life. The Mayo Clinic outlines three paths: behavioral and cognitive therapy, medication (antidepressants/mood stabilizers) and group therapy. The Department of Veterans Affairs also has mental-health resources that you might find helpful.

Sit down with your spouse and a financial adviser, take account of your debts and rank them in order of importance — looking at interest rates and due dates, and whether the debts are secured or unsecured. Formulate a plan for repayment and figure out if you can consolidate any of these debts. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling and Credit.org are two nonprofits that can help.

You got into this problem alone, but you can’t fix it alone. If you take one thing away from this letter, please let it be that.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

‘Am I being preyed upon?’ After my mother died, my cousin took her designer purse, and my aunt snatched her artwork — but then things really escalated

‘We live in purgatory’: My wife has a trust fund, but my mother-in-law controls it. We earn $400,000 and spend beyond our means. What’s our next move?

‘My sister is always struggling with money and drugs’: I own a house with my husband and mother. Should we cut my sister out of the family inheritance?

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