In this episode of the podcast, we look at the starting point for anyone wishing to stop gambling. We cover the key areas of Access (self-exclusion), Time (what to do with your free time and to distract yourself from thoughts about gambling) and Money management. We discuss the challenges that come up for our counselling clients, as well as the advantages to having this control measures in place. The podcast is also available on Spotify and Google Podcasts.
A Guest Blog Post from Mark. We would like to thank Mark for making contacting and offering to share his story. The original post can be found on Mark's blog: https://marksrecovery.blogspot.com/
**Please note that GamStop, which Mark mentions in this post, is only available to UK residents. GamStop is a multi-operator self-exclusion scheme - the type of system which is badly needed in Ireland and which should be a priority of the proposed Gambling Regulatory Authority, when it is established**
"My name is Mark and i’m a compulsive gambler. My last bet was April 2nd 2019. The day of April 2nd was a massive turning point in my life, it was the day I finally admitted to my long term girlfriend, who is the mother of my two children, and to my parents that I was a compulsive gambler and needed help. The weekend prior was when I finally said to myself I’ve had enough, I had been betting for 14 years and it had beaten me so badly that I was a mess mentally and financially. Although no one knew that because I was an expert at hiding it.
I started gambling like almost anyone in the UK or Ireland, The Grand National. The one day of the year where it seems like every man, woman and child has a bet on. The biggest horse race in the world. That and those glorious holidays spent in Portrush playing the 2p machines. I don’t for one second blame those experiences for my gambling problem, they are just my first memories of gambling.
Once I turned 18 I opened an account with Blue Sq and that started my online sports gambling journey. Friday nights were spent betting on Wolverhampton all weather horse racing and the Dutch and French 2nd Divisions. All harmless fun, controlled gambling, small stakes. I was still working part time at this stage, left school that summer and gambling was not in the way. Once I got my full time job though that all changed.
The first time I could put my finger on when my gambling changed was the first day of the 2008/2009 football season. I’d been working full time for about 3 years and my gambling was still under control. I gambled, but it wasn’t causing me any issues. That Friday I walked into a Paddy Power and decided instead of placing a load of stupid football bets for £1 or £2 I’d pick three teams for the season and do a £20 treble each week. Sheffield United, Leicester City and Leeds United were the picks. Of course, the first weekend it landed (the only time it landed all season I think) and my betting changed from that moment. I genuinely can’t remember the odds but I must have lifted over £100 from that £20 stake and after that staking £1 or £2 just wasn’t appealing. What was the point in that when I could stake £20 and win more. From that moment my gambling started to get out of control over time. Then came the loans, the credit cards, the payday loans.
I knew early on I had a problem. I self excluded from places over the years but never really wanted to quit. I was getting in debt but was able to continue with my lifestyle as I was living at home. I remember one day going to a cheque cashing place where I could write a cheque for £100, dated on my next payday, and they’d give me £90 there and then. I did two cheques for going out that weekend (and a couple of bets on the Aintree Festival) walked straight to the bookies and had the £180 on Denman to win the Aintree Bowl at even money. He suffered the first fall of his career. Back I went to the cheque cashing place for another £90.
I moved out and into my friends house for a year and the gambling continued, although I had less money to gamble with. My credit rating was taking a battering but I was young and didn’t really care. Then I met my current girlfriend in the February and we moved in together that September. The gambling continued and was getting worse. I made the smart move to get a second job to supplement my gambling…...at a greyhound track. I’d be earning about £20 a night but gambling £60 or £80. Insanity. We had our first child in April 2012 and not long after she found out I’d be gambling some of the money we’d saved. It wasn’t a lot of money, but she was pissed (rightfully so). I managed to talk my way out of it and that was when I became really good at hiding things. She took control of the rent money and any money for our son so that was never in danger, thankfully. We had our daughter in 2016 but the gambling still continued.
I would go through phases where I’d stop altogether for months on end, a year at one point, but I’d always go back to it thinking I was in control but I never was. When gambling I’d deposit £10, lose it, deposit another £10, lose it, rinse and repeat until all my money was gone. If I won it just meant I could gamble longer. It was never about the money. I thought it was, but really the money was the fuel that could keep me gambling longer. Most months I was skint a few days after payday and couldn’t gamble until the next payday.
At the end of 2016 I got an overdraft of £2k and gambled it all on soccer all around the world. Woke up and started gambling in Asia, moved across the globe into the Middle East, Africa, Europe and then fell asleep betting on South American football. It was out of control. Betting on Egyptian football on Xmas Day a particular lowlight.
Coming into 2018 I was in a “good place” with gambling, or so I thought. I was Matched Betting which was a way of making money via bookmakers offers. It worked well for a few months but it all went to shit in the Summer of 2018. Matched Betting introduced me to the casino side of things and I lost £3.5k on roulette. I’ll not go into the ins and outs of how I had that sort of money, lets just say I didn’t and I found a way to deposit via direct debit and of course those all bounced. Luckily Paddy Power rewarded me by making me a VIP customer after that. So I was chasing big style and getting free £50 bonuses each week from them but I could never get enough money to stop, because no amount was ever going to be enough. Their offers of Money Back if Horse X wins are normally £10 max refund, I was getting £100 max refund. Eventually I was running out of ways to get money and when I started to bet less with Paddy Power they removed my VIP status. I did win £1000 on an NFL bet and lost the lot on roulette the next week. Another lowlight.
2019 I could feel myself struggling. My life was consumed with gambling or working out how to get money to gamble and then how I was going to pay people back what I owed them. I was in a bad place, I was a bad person, lying, angry, grumpy but still no one knew the truth.
Then came the weekend prior to April 2nd. I had just been paid and deposited some money into my Bet365 account and managed to get my balance up to £910 on the Friday 29th March. I should say by this stage I was fully gambling on tennis. Not match winner, that took too long, generally set winner or next game winner as that was quicker. Now this £910 would have cleared some of my urgent debts to allow me to continue on gambling. All I had to do was withdraw, and I was going to…...once I got it up to a nice round £1000. As you can guess I lost the lot. £300-£400 on Benoit Paire was one of the worst hits but I was gambling like a mad man. That was how I bet when I had winnings, the stakes got out of control. By the time I was leaving work at 6pm on the Friday the whole £910 was gone. I was betting on ATP, Challenger, ITF, any tennis that was on I was betting on it. Back in the day I remember betting on a tennis match where they had one ball. Still a story that brings a smile to my face if I’m honest. That Friday night I deposited whatever I had left in and managed to win back a good chunk of the money, but it still wasn’t enough. It still wasn’t what I had before. So the whole weekend went like that, up and down, up and down. I went to a family dinner and sat betting on my phone the whole night. That’s how my life has been the last number of years, I’m present at gatherings, or nights out but my mind is deep in my phone gambling away not giving a shit about anyone.
Eventually the money ran out that weekend. I was a mess. I could have actually made it work financially and gotten through the month but mentally I was gone. I could tell my brain had put me into a nosedive and the only way this was all ending was in disaster. Maybe not this month, or this year but I was been flown towards rock bottom.
I sat down on the Monday and wrote out everything that I owed, who I owed it to, a budget going forward. It was grim enough reading, £18k in the hole. The money wasn’t the issue, it was how it was making me feel, the time I've been wasting. I found out when and where the nearest GA Meeting was to me and wrote that down too. So I found a set of balls and on the Tuesday I told my girlfriend. My attitude was that life can’t be any worse for me than it currently is. I was a mess, I cried, I honestly expected her to tell me to get out and I wouldn’t have blamed her, but she was amazing. She was angry obviously, but she was so supportive. Then I called my parents round and told them. They were disappointed, confused but also really supportive. Then the next day I told my closest friends who were again all really supportive. I owe them some money too and they’ve been great about setting up a payment plan to pay that back.
I registered for GAMStop and self excluded online for 5 years which has taken the avenue of online gambling away from me. A vital step if online is your vice.
I then went to my first GA Meeting on Wednesday 3rd April. The time doesn’t suit me for that, Monday at 9pm is my meeting but I felt I needed to get to one ASAP. I don’t know what I expected GA to be but it’s one of the most amazing groups I’ve ever found. It’s a dumping ground for all my shit and it’s a place where I can listen to other people’s stories. Without sounding sexist, it’s something a lot of men could do with outside of addiction, a place to talk about life and how they are feeling. I take a 50 mile round trip every Monday to get there. When I was gambling if I had to travel 50 miles to get internet to gamble you can guarantee I’d have traveled every day. When I leave a meeting, I’m buzzing, for all the right reasons. I’m a lifer when it comes to GA now and i’m fine with that.
I’ve been clean for 10 weeks now, and I've had no urges to gamble. My life is amazing, it always was but I was too wrapped up in my addiction to notice. I have an amazing girlfriend and two amazing children along with my parents who are absolutely fantastic. My friends are another support network I couldn’t do without now.
I’m also a member of the problem gambling sub on Reddit and they run a weekly meeting via Skype every Wednesday which is becoming part of my weekly routine (they are also adding an additional one on a Tuesday).
Recovery is now my focus along with my family. The debt can be managed, stopping gambling is one day at a time, but the main focus of my recovery will be fixing my character defects, helping others, being open and honest to people and not being a selfish asshole.
I have no issues with the gambling industry or people who gamble, I just know that I am unable to gamble as it ends in disaster. I feel there should be more discussion around problem gambling and the industry should be putting more money into helping problem gamblers and to help identify problem gamblers. It’s a fine line though, as I know if a bookie told me they felt I had a problem and wouldn’t accept a bet I’d have been angry and just went somewhere else. You need to be ready for recovery to fully embrace it. I never was until April 2nd. For the people in recovery we need to be ready to help those that get to the stage where they are ready for recovery. We are the ones who these people will come to rely on as we’ve been through it, you can tell when talking to someone who hasn’t had a gambling addiction they just don’t understand. Over the coming years I think there will be a significant rise in people looking for help with problem gambling.
For now though, for me, my next bet won’t be about the money I lose, I’ll lose my girlfriend and children as well and that’s not a bet that’s worth making."
Do you want to help support people affected by problem gambling?
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In January 2016, I set up the website, www.problemgambling.ie. The aim was to provide a resource for people affected by gambling-related harm in Ireland, that was independent of the gambling industry. Our website traffic has been steadily growing, along with emails, texts and calls to our helpline. Yesterday, as Gamble Aware Ireland closed down, they redirected their website traffic to our site (with our consent). We expect to see a substantial increase in calls over the coming months.
In addition to the website and helpline service, we also provide outreach services, in the form of talks, workshops and training, nationwide. Our goal is to have at least one problem gambling specialist providing outreach, counselling and group facilitation services in each county.
Currently, we do not have a core funder, to cover the cost of a full-time helpline service. This means that, at present, we can only provide a 'call-back' service (as I am unable to take calls while I'm with counselling clients or delivering outreach). Our fundraising goal for 2018 is €96,000. This would cover the cost of two full-time staff to provide a full-time helpline and outreach service. It would also be used to cover travel and other related costs on the outreach service.
When I tell people what I do for a living, someone will usually say: 'You should get the bookies to pay for that'. And, of course there is a logic to that sentiment: the industry that creates the addictive product should pay to clean up 'their mess'. At a superficial level, this kind of makes sense. The problem with this approach, though, is that addiction services end up working for an industry that they are (or should be) in direct conflict with. International research has shown that between 40% and 60% of gambling industry profits come from people with gambling problems. There is no business in the world that would willingly exclude half of its customers.
Pope Francis recently said: “Gambling companies finance campaigns to care for the pathological gamblers that they create. And the day that the weapons industry finances hospitals to care for the children mutilated by their bombs, the system will have reached its pinnacle.” Scrape the surface and the conflict of interest is quite clear.
The Irish Government does not have a funding stream for problem gambling services. The HSE Service Plan does not mention the word 'gambling' once. Our proposal (in collaboration with the Rutland Center) that a portion of the Betting Duty, which brings in roughly €50 million per year, could be allocated to problem gambling services (instead of the Horse Racing & Greyhound Fund) was unsuccessful.
In short, we need your help.
A monthly donation of €10 per month from 800 people (or €5 per month from 1600 people) would have a radical impact on our ability to support the thousands of people in Ireland who are affected by gambling-related harm, as well as helping us to deliver preventative interventions to at-risk groups (children and young people, in particular).
In Ireland, 1 in 10 of us will be affected by gambling-related harm in our lifetimes. Half of the people who contact our service are family members in distress.
If you would like to help support people affected by problem gambling in Ireland, you can donate here: https://www.problemgambling.ie/donate.html
Barry Grant, CEO, Problem Gambling Ireland
Problem Gambling Ireland is a registered charity. RCN: 20154738
A few months ago, my wife and I went on a research trip to a couple of amusement arcades in Tramore. I wanted to get a feel for the experience of sitting at a 'one-armed bandit' for a while. Despite that fact that I grew up on the Meath Road in Bray (100 metres from the prom) and, later, moved to Lahinch in my teens, the gambling sections of the arcades had never held any appeal for me. I would play video games or hang out with my friends as they pumped their pocket-money into poker machines on wintry west-coast nights. While I developed many unhealthy habits in my teens, gambling wasn't one of them.
So, we gave ourselves a 20 quid limit each and set about playing some of the machines (poker and slots). As I came to my final 10 cent stake on one of the slot machines, five "7s" appeared before my eyes. I had won the princely sum of €75 (much to the disdain of the poor woman beside me). We promptly left the building and our 'free money' paid for dinner.
As an addiction counsellor, working with clients who have gambling problems, I always ask about a 'Big Win' that stands out in their minds. For some people it can be tens of thousands, for others it can be in the hundreds. For some, it is the time they turned 50 pence into £10 at the race-track as a young child, The 'Big Win' is important as it is often the 'evidence' (or 'logic') that continues to drive the person to gamble, even when they know, deep down, that they cannot gamble their way out of the financial (and/or emotional) hole they are in.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is considered to be one of the most effective treatment approaches for problem gambling, focuses, in part, on disputing irrational beliefs. So, for example, if a person was getting treatment for anxiety or panic attacks, and they had an intense fear of fainting in public places (this is very common), the therapist might explain that this is impossible as fainting is caused by a sudden drop in blood pressure, whereas the Fight or Flight response causes blood pressure to rise. Quite often, by empowering the person with the knowledge that fainting is not a realistic scenario, anxiety levels can be reduced.
Unfortunately, with gambling, the person usually has hard, indisputable evidence, that gambling their way out of difficulty is a viable option. They have done it (to some extent) in the past. They have clear memories of the 'Big Win' along with other wins and 'winning streaks'. The fact that it is extremely unlikely to play out that way, gets overridden by this 'evidence' - especially when a person is desperate, anxiety levels are high and their ability to think clearly is impaired (as it is for all of us in stressful situations). The 'Big Win' also gives that sweet hit of dopamine (the same neurotransmitter that is released when using cocaine). Just like with cocaine, and other drugs, a tolerance develops and you can find yourself needing to gamble more frequently and with larger amounts of money.
If we go back to my measly €75 jackpot on the one-arm bandit, it certainly isn't anything to write home about. However, it was a payout at odds of 750/1. I now have 'evidence', stored in my memory for all time, that it is possible for me to turn 10 cent into €75. 'Logically', this means that I have the ability to turn €1 into €750 or €10 into €7500 . . . and so on. If I were to combine that 'logic' with an emotionally aroused state (stress/anxiety), where I am less likely to be able to control my impulses and make rational decisions - along with a potentially addictive, dopamine-producing activity, like gambling - it's pretty easy to see how I might start thinking that this could be the answer to some (or all) of my problems.
Does this mean that the 'Big Win' will keep a person gambling problematically forever? Of course not. The reality is that a person with a gambling problem has, invariably, had many wins along the way. Unfortunately, one of the things that separates people with gambling problems from non-problematic gamblers, is the person's inability to walk away with their winnings. This needs to be the focus of the conversation - because this is where 'logic' goes out the window. When a person is chasing their losses, they have an overwhelming need to get their money back. Unfortunately, the same person will usually gamble away their winnings, because they see it as 'free money' or 'the bookie's money'. Usually, clients will have experienced countless incidents of this. I always ask clients, 'What are the chances that you would leave the bookies shop (or casino/arcade), if you won enough money to clear all of your debts?". The answer is consistently: 'Practically zero'. This is because a problem gambler is not addicted to winning money - they are addicted to the gambling experience (which only occasionally involves winning money) . Having money just allows the person more time to get that lovely dopamine hit and self-sooth from Life's problems.
If you find yourself chasing that 'Big Win' and the feelings that came with it, just remember that money is the least valuable thing you can gamble with. A gambling problem puts your mental/physical health and relationships at risk. If you are concerned about your gambling and the impact that it is having on your life, don't suffer in silence. Help is available.
Barry Grant, CEO, Problem Gambling Ireland
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.
Barry Grant has been awarded a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Elevator award at
the ceremony on Tuesday, the 11th October. Barry Grant’s organisation, Problem Gambling Ireland
focusses on raising public awareness of gambling addiction as an escalating public health issue.
They provide online resources, pay-what-you-want counselling services and gambling-harm
prevention workshops. The prize consists of €30,000 in funding to expand and grow the business.
A further five organisations also received this funding and support in the Elevator Award category.
They were Sam Synnott and Judith Ashton from Buddy Bench Ireland, Alex Cooney and Cliona
Curley from Cyber Safe Ireland, Shane McKenna and Killian Redmond from Dabbledoo Music, Noelle
Daly and Stephen Cluskey from Mobility Mojo and Francis Cleary from Step Out Ireland.
Through this awards ceremony, three social entrepreneurs have each been awarded funding and
support worth €140,000. Lakers, A Lust for Life and Recreate were chosen for this highest level
Speaking about the award, Barry Grant said; ‘Winning a Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Elevator Award
means a huge amount to me, personally, and to Problem Gambling Ireland, as an organisation. It
has shown me that there are experts in the field of social enterprise who believe we have the
capacity to make a positive impact on Irish society and to scale our service nationally.’
Over the last twelve years, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland has invested over €6.7 million in social
entrepreneurs and 1,230 employment opportunities have been created in the process. This
programme is sponsored by Irish company DCC plc, who have been the flagship sponsor of the
Awards for the last six years and earlier this year pledged its commitment to Social Entrepreneurs
Ireland until 2019, continuing its financial support with a further €700,000 in funding over this
CEO of DCC Tommy Breen said “DCC is proud to be a long term sponsor of the Social Entrepreneurs
Ireland Elevator and Impact Award programmes. It is a great privilege to play a role in getting
behind Ireland’s brightest and most ambitious entrepreneurs working to have a positive impact on
Darren Ryan CEO of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland said “Social entrepreneurs are problem solvers.
Whenever the current system is too slow, inadequate or missing, a social entrepreneur will roll up
their sleeves and take action. The social entrepreneurs awarded today are all pioneering new
solutions to some of society’s biggest challenges. With the ongoing commitment of DCC plc, we will
back these entrepreneurs to take risks and be brave in pursuing ideas to solve Ireland’s social
The awards ceremony, which took place in the Mansion House, Dublin, was hosted by Joan
Freeman, the founder of Pieta House, and John Evoy, the founder of the Irish Men’s Sheds
Association, who are both former recipients of Social Entrepreneurs Ireland Awards.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.