Q: My husband has been participating in a weekly poker night with his friends. Lately I've become concerned that he's turning into a compulsive gambler. He says I'm worried about nothing. How can I be sure?
Jim: It sounds trite, but your husband may be in denial. Dr. Robert Custer, a trailblazer in the field of gambling addiction treatment, says that denial "means refusing to acknowledge something to oneself, getting oneself to actually believe that there is no danger at all." It's a common mindset among those who struggle with gambling addiction.
Unfortunately, denial can affect the addict's spouse and family, too. They may subconsciously use it as a technique for explaining away, minimizing, or rationalizing destructive behavior.
This being the case, our counseling team recommends that you first take an honest look at yourself. You say you're worried, but is it possible you've been ignoring the obvious for a while now? A gambler's spouse can sometimes remain in a state of denial for years until some dramatic incident suddenly jerks her back to reality.
If, upon reflection, you're convinced that your husband's gambling is compulsive, sit down with him and confront the issue head-on. Has he placed any limits on his gambling activity, either in terms of money wagered or time invested? Depending on the answers to those questions, insist that he consider the possibility that he has a serious problem. Suggest that he seek professional assistance. If he's unwilling to listen, enlist the help of an objective third party -- a pastor, a relative or a male friend who agrees with your assessment. Our counseling department can offer you a free consultation and a referral to qualified help.
Q: My teenage son and his friends are always drinking "energy drinks" like Red Bull and Rockstar. They say it gives them energy and helps them stay awake in school, but I think it's just expensive, glorified soda pop. What do you think?
Bob Waliszsewski, director of Plugged In: You have reason to be suspicious! Energy drinks have become a huge industry, appealing primarily to young people who use them to "keep their edge" amid busy lives that don't include adequate sleep.
True energy, however, comes from a well-balanced diet. Energy drinks simply stimulate the central nervous system and provide a jittery "buzz." Dr. Vijay Roy, a cardiologist with Prairie Cardiovascular Consultants, says, "Some students get up in the morning and take an energy drink with them. Instead of a healthy meal, they are replacing that with fluids that aren't natural in the body."
While some drinks add negligible amounts of vitamins, the big appeal for young people is the caffeine. Some single-serving energy drinks contain the caffeine equivalent of FIVE cans of Coke! Drinkers get that typical caffeine "buzz," only to feel sluggish later on, necessitating another jolt. It's an endless cycle. Even more troubling, energy drinks have been linked to a number of hospitalizations, even deaths in recent years. While other factors may be at play in these instances, excessive caffeine consumption is certainly not healthy.
Also, some teens believe that consuming energy drinks is the same as drinking Gatorade or other sports drinks. Not so! Most energy drinks don't contain the electrolytes and other vital elements found in sports beverages. If an athlete downs an "energy drink" in the hope of improving his game, he'll more likely end up dehydrated and sick.
Should you ban your son's energy drinks? Not necessarily, but make sure he's not using them in excess, or as a replacement for a healthy, well-balanced meal, or as a "quick fix" for staying up too late the night before a big test.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.