Gambling is a pastime which many Irish people enjoy. It is deeply ingrained in our culture. In fact, Ireland has the third-highest losses, per person, on gambling – in the world. While for the majority of people who gamble, it is a relatively harmless bit of fun, there are many who experience harm from gambling. Problem Gambling (Gambling Addiction) is estimated to affect up to 40,000 people in Ireland. For every person with a gambling problem, there are estimated to be a further 8-10 people affected, meaning that there could be up to 400,000 people in Ireland feeling the negative impact of gambling-related harm.
The types of harm a person with a gambling problem may experience are:
• Financial issues (debt)
• Relationship issues
• Mental Health issues (Anxiety, Depression, Stress)
• Deterioration in Physical Health
• Issues at college or work (loss of productivity, absenteeism, difficulty concentrating)
• Suicidal Thoughts
So, how can you tell if you (or a person you care about) are showing signs of problem gambling?
Recognising the problem in yourself:
If you answer ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, you may be developing a gambling problem. Do you:
• gamble alone and often?
• continue gambling longer than you intended?
• spend more time on gambling than other favourite pastimes or interests?
• gamble every last euro you have?
• think about gambling every day?
• try to win back money you have lost with more gambling?
• find it difficult to stop yourself spending too much?
• lie to friends and family members about your gambling and how much you have spent or do you just not tell them about it?
• sometimes reach the point where you no longer enjoy gambling?
• feel depressed because of gambling?
• have trouble sleeping?
• feel that gambling is having a negative effect on other areas of your life, such as family and work?
If you are concerned about your gambling and want to make some changes, then these suggestions may be useful:
• Break the silence and talk to someone you trust, a counsellor or attend a Gamblers Anonymous or SMART Recovery meeting. Keeping a gambling problem secret only makes it harder to bring about change. Talking to someone about it can help reduce the stress of a gambling problem and help you to do something about it.
• Avoid high-risk situations. These include any situations which you know can lead to gambling in a harmful way, such as having your ATM or credit cards with you when gambling, gambling on your own or mixing alcohol with gambling. You may want to avoid risky situations such as talking about gambling, carrying large amounts of money or socialising close to gambling venues. If you have online accounts, shut them down and ask to be excluded from the service.
• Challenge your gambling thoughts. It’s difficult to cut down or stop gambling if you believe that you can win and will come out in front. Remember: nobody ever gambled their way out of their gambling problem.
• Prepare for gambling urges. Urges to gamble are common for people trying to cut down or stop. Preparing yourself can help you cope. Think of times or situations that are likely to trigger urges and have plans for alternative activities that can help distract you.
• Find alternatives to gambling. It’s important to replace gambling with activities that you find satisfying. Finding a range of alternatives can help, such as sports, being with family members and friends, hobbies, and relaxation exercises (e.g. yoga or meditation).
• Reward your progress. There is a lot of guilt and shame associated with having a gambling problem. Acknowledge any progress you’ve made and reward yourself with a non-gambling treat – a nice meal, a movie or something else you enjoy.
Recognising the problem in others:
Here are some signs you can look for if you’re worried about a family member, friend or fellow student. People with a gambling problem have a preoccupation with gambling and may:
• want to borrow money to gamble or to cover debts
• have changes in their sleeping and eating habits
• start to miss college, work or other regular commitments
• express suicidal thoughts
• sometimes celebrate their ‘good fortune’ by gambling more.
If you are concerned about another person’s gambling, there is a simple, 2 question screening tool, which is an indicator that the person would need to undergo a more thorough gambling addiction assessment:
Q1: Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?
Q2: Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gambled?
(Answering “Yes” to one or more of these questions, strongly indicates that further assessment is necessary.)
Helping a friend or family member
If you think a friend or family member has a gambling problem, try to show your concern without lecturing or criticising. Your comments may be met with defensiveness and denial. Don’t take this personally, but let the person know you care and explain how his or her gambling behaviour affects you. You may have to clear boundaries with the person. Don’t be manipulated into excusing, justifying, overlooking, enabling or participating in the person’s destructive behaviour.
If the person agrees that he or she has a problem, here are some tips:
• Help the person make contact with organisations that can help, such as those listed at the end of this article.
• Be supportive and encouraging of the person’s attempts toward change, however small.
• Expect that there may be steps backward (“slips”/relapses) as a normal part of the recovery process.
• Encourage activities that are not associated with gambling and try to support the person by limiting or stopping your own gambling.
• Become informed by finding out more about problem gambling.
Gambling is a pastime which many Irish people enjoy. It is deeply ingrained in our culture. In fact, Ireland has the third-highest gambling losses, per person – in the world. While, for the majority of people who gamble, it is a relatively harmless bit of fun, there are many who experience harm from gambling. Problem Gambling (Gambling Addiction) is estimated to affect up to 40,000 people in Ireland. For every person with a gambling problem, there are estimated to be a further 8-10 people affected, meaning that there could be up to 400,000 people in Ireland feeling the negative impact of gambling-related harm.
Third-level students are a particularly at-risk group for potentially developing a gambling problem. The Irish Institute of Public Health found that adolescent gambling in Ireland is 2-3 times greater than that of adults. Anyone who has ever listened to the stories high-profile Irish problem gamblers in recovery (Oisin McConville, Niall McNamee, Davy Glennon), will have noticed that they all started out around the ages of 14 or 15. What began for them as a relatively harmless pastime had developed into an addiction by the time they had finished secondary school.
As a student at Third Level, you may find yourself in a new living situation, which can lend itself to developing a gambling problem:
• If you are living away from home for the first time, you no longer have people around you who know you really well and who can spot changes in your mood or behaviours.
• You may be managing your own finances for the first time.
• You are probably living on a tight budget.
• If you are in your late teens or early twenties, you are biologically predisposed towards more impulsive acts than older adults.
Some students may see gambling as a way to get out of financial difficulties, particularly if they have had a big win in the past. This is one of the most common tragic delusions of problem gamblers – that they can gamble their way out of trouble. Listen to the stories of any recovering gambling addict and you will hear a reoccurring thread: whenever they did win, they almost immediately lost it all again.
Since the advent of online gambling, in combination with the development smartphones, problem gambling worldwide has been increasing dramatically. 96% of Irish 15-35 year-olds own a smartphone. This means that they basically have the potential to carry a 24-hour bookmakers shop around in their pocket, all day, every day – simply by downloading one of the many gambling apps. For a generation of young people who have grown up online, this is probably the biggest risk of all. As well as the danger associated with the ‘always on’ accessibility, gambling companies can send ‘free bet’ incentives straight to your phone – particularly if they see that you haven’t been using the app for a while. For a student who is struggling financially, these types of incentives can be difficult to resist. They generally require you to make a deposit into your online account, meaning that if or when you lose the money that the bookmaker has ‘given’ you, you go on to chase your losses with your own money.
Here is some simple advice, if you are gambling:
If you have any questions relating to problem gambling, email info [at] problemgambling.ie or call Barry on 089 241 5401.
It seems fair to say that we live in interesting times. Fine Gael and Fianna Fail's "love that dare not speak its name" has finally come to fruition; a serial-bankrupt, day-glo builder has been selected to rule the world; and a sports-show, funded by a betting firm, discusses gambling addiction three times over the course of one week. If you've been preparing for The Rapture, it's probably time to put on your Sunday best.
The sports-show in question is Newstalk's highly-popular Off The Ball. Last Sunday (27th November), they began their series of discussions with Declan Lynch. Declan had written an article in that day's Irish Independent, entitled: "Is it the right time to derail our gambling supertrain?" Declan has long been at the forefront of raising awareness around gambling addiciton in Ireland and doesn't pull any punches when it comes to highlighting some of the questionable practices of the gambling industry.
At the time, I thought that this was a brave, if somewhat tokenistic move, on the part of the show's producers. Imagine my surprise when, just a few days later (1st December), Ger Gilroy interviewed recovering gambling addict and Tyrone footballer, Cathal McCarron, on the same show. Ger begins by saying: "I think that it's incredibly important that we talk about gambling addiction and about the industry, as well, particularly as, in the sports media, we have a very close relationship with the betting industry and sometimes that can be uncomfortable for us. On a personal level I have seen the devastation that gambling has wreaked on families and on careers." Ger goes on to show himself to be sensitive to, and knowledgable about, the harm caused by gambling addiction.
Just when I was beginning to think that Christmas had come early - ALL of my Christmases came together. This manifested itself in the form of a third discussion on gambling addiction on yesterday's show (3rd December). The panel discussion included Declan Lynch, as well as addiction treatment specialist, Dr Garrett McGovern and recovering substance addict and poker afficionado, John Leonard (AKA, Sober Paddy). The discussion was wide-ranging, intelligent and nuanced. They covered everything from harm-prevention and harm-reduction to the pros and cons of the 12-step treatment model, gambling advertising and the "gamblification" of sport and the sports media. [By "gamblification", I mean the process by which the gambling industry has embedded itself into sporting bodies and media organisations by getting them hooked on their cold, hard cash.]
By the end of the week, I had to take a long, hard look at myself. This no longer looked, sounded or smelled like tokenistic box-ticking from Off The Ball. In fact, this had the whiff of a group of people who might actually genuinely care about the harm that is caused by gambling in this country, while also struggling with the fact that they (and many of their colleagues) are overly-dependent on gambling industry funding.
As an addiction counsellor, I am always looking out for dysfunctional "Black & White Thinking" in my clients. This sort of binary thinking is often a strong indicator of the type of cognitive distortions which can lead to addictions and other issues. "Life is lived in the Grey", I can hear myself saying, over and over again. However, when seeing the harm caused by gambling and other addictions on a regular basis, it can be easy to slip into a Good Guys vs Bad Guys mindset - or, in other words: "If you're not with us, you're agin' us!".
As I work through my own internal conflict on this one, I have to commend Ger Gilroy and the rest of the Off The Ball team on grappling with the Horns of their own Dilemma. It can't be easy to watch the increasing harm caused by gambling in Irish society, while at the same time deal with the financial realities of commercial radio. At least by acknowledging that the "close relationship" can be "uncomfortable" for them, they, to my mind, are making a step in the right direction. As workers in the addiction field will often tell you, "The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem".
Discussion on gambling starts around half-way through the clip.
They say knowledge is power, and a lack of psychology knowledge is one reason people can feel so
powerless in the fight against addiction.
Gambling Disorder was included for the first time in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Since the release of the DSM-5 in 2013, gambling disorder
(also called problem gambling or gambling addiction) has received increased attention by psychology
Here are five recent findings that can help empower people who struggle with problem gambling.
1.Gambling Addiction Affects the Brain Like a Drug
It was once believed that gambling addiction was primarily a matter of impulse control, and caused
neurological changes similar to disorders like OCD. However, recent research supports a model of
gambling addiction as more similar to substance abuse – as though gambling were an actual drug.
Using this model of gambling addiction, scientists have found numerous parallels between gambling
addiction and substance abuse. An article published by Scientific American reveals that gamblers and
drug addicts share many underlying genetic predispositions for impulsive and reward seeking
Also, both gambling and drug addiction can directly cause the brain to produce less dopamine and
fire fewer electrical signals during a high, causing addicts to seek greater gambling risks or increased
2.Women Perceive Gambling Differently Than Men
While there is no doubt that gambling addiction causes physical changes to the body and brain, it is
easy to ignore social forces that contribute to the development of problem gambling.
Recent social psychology research supported the idea that women are generally more aware than
men of the negative social consequences of gambling, and thus more likely to stop a gambling
episode before problems arise. This finding may partially explain why female addicts generally begin
gambling in their 30s, whereas men are more likely to begin in adolescence.
3.Nearly Winning Reinforces Gambling Addiction
A recent article in the journal Neuropsychophramacology showed that almost winning can foster an
illusion of control that drives further gambling. The researchers showed that gambling addicts also
demonstrate increased neurochemical response in the ventral striatum – part of the reward pathway
of the brain – when they experience a near win.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), often used for drug addicts, is frequently prescribed to problem
gamblers to combat the influence of the near win. Using CBT, gambling addicts learn to confront the
“Gambler’s Fallacy” that nearly winning indicates they are about to win, and means they should
continue to gamble.
4.Gambling Behaviour Changes Based On Your Mood
Participants in this study performed a task designed to simulate the experience of gambling.
Participants were first given €2000 of play money to gamble with. In order to succeed in the task,
participants had to make gut-level decisions on whether to take cards from one deck or another.
The researchers found that after losing money, participants who were in a bad mood were less able
to make decisions based on their gut feelings, and ended up losing even more money.
The researchers then repeated the study, this time manipulating mood. Participants watched either a
funny video clip from The Muppet Show, or a sad scene from Schindler’s List. The Schindler’s List
group lost more money than those who had watched the Muppets.
These experiments support the idea that being in a bad mood or experiencing something that puts
you in a bad mood while gambling can significantly impair your ability to make healthy decisions
about how much gambling to do, and when to stop.
5.Being Physically Motionless Can Help You Stop Gambling
Researchers have also taken an interest in effective strategies for controlling gambling behaviour. A
study published last year supported the idea that there is a motor component of compulsive
gambling. Anyone who has gambled is familiar with the physical urge to reach out one’s hand and
pull the slot machine lever or to click the “Deal” button in an online poker app.
Researchers demonstrated that introducing a “stop” signal, in which gamblers simply force
themselves to be physically still, can reduce the urge to continue gambling and lead to improved
outcomes of a gambling episode.
Gambling addiction is a serious problem, and increasing in prevalence in the UK, the United States,
and throughout the world. Psychology researchers are answering the call, and adding to our
understanding of how gambling addiction works.
By increasing knowledge and awareness, we can combat gambling addiction and help empower
people everywhere struggling with gambling disorder.
Marcus regularly blogs at psysci.co a psychology, science and health blog that examines the latest
research and explains how findings can impact and help individuals everyday lives.
It's that time of year again. Silly Season for gambling. In case you've been living in a cave with no radio, TV or broadband coverage - the Cheltenham Festival 2016 begins next week. What many consider to be the highlight of the horse-racing year on these islands, runs over 4 days (Tuesday to Friday). Despite it being a UK fixture, Cheltenham holds a special place in the hearts of Irish enthusiasts. In fact, its appeal goes far beyond the limits of regular punters and the festival manages to inspire many, who would not bet on horse-racing from one end of the year to the other, to have a 'flutter'. Offices, factories and other workplaces are a-buzz with tips and talk of the winners and losers. This fascination is reflected in (and/or encouraged by) the media. It is practically impossible to listen to any radio station, read a newspaper or watch the TV without hearing talk of gambling. This, of course, is not so strange, considering that horse-racing and betting have been intertwined since time immemorial.
Unfortunately, for recovering gambling addicts (problem gamblers), this time of year is an absolute nightmare. If you don't believe me, try to spend one day between now and March 18th, avoiding all talk of Cheltenham. I'd be very interested to hear how you get on.
In my time working with problem gamblers, they have almost uniformly expressed a sense of impending dread and fear in advance of the Cheltenham Festival. The 'triggers' to relapse (or 'lapse' or 'slip'), which most people in recovery from addictions try so hard to avoid, are omni-present. Short of booking a trip to Ireland's Most Remote Cave, it is practically impossible to avoid hearing constant talk of gambling. And as if that weren't bad enough, bookmakers heavily promote 'Free Bets' of up to €30 for new customers. For some problem gamblers in recovery, these sorts of enticements are the equivalent of a drug dealer putting a bag of heroin through a recovering addict's letterbox.
So, if you are a problem gambler in recovery, what should you do over the coming week?
Here are some suggestions:
Remember, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' approach to recovery. Your recovery journey will be as unique as you are - regardless of whether you are following the 12 Steps, in counselling or 'going it alone'. Do what works for you. Make healthy choices and reap the rewards.
An excellent article in yesterday's Guardian newspaper (06.01.16) claims that the Chair of the UK's Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) - a charity funded by the gambling industry - lobbied on behalf of that industry.
Just like the alcohol industry in Ireland, the gambling industry encourages you to 'enjoy gambling responsibly' and directs you to the Gamble Aware website (the alcohol equivalent being Drink Aware). Alcohol addiction has an independent organisation with 'teeth' - Alcohol Action Ireland - ready to take on the vested interests, lobby government and actively raise awareness. To date, there has been no such organisation dedicated to gambling addiction in Ireland.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.