Most of the people who contact our service are interested in one thing: stopping gambling completely. The vast majority of people we work with have made numerous attempts to quit gambling and, unfortunately, relapsed. So, just like you, they have realised that they cannot gamble in a moderate or recreational way. Having an unhealthy/addictive relationship with gambling is not a problem - as long as you don't gamble. The real problem is repeatedly convincing yourself that you can gamble safely - when you have so much lived experience evidence to the contrary. Many people cannot have a healthy relationship with gambling - just as many people cannot have a healthy relationship with alcohol or other drugs. While the Government and Gambling Industry must take their fair share of responsibility for facilitating gambling addiction, they can't do your recovery for you (unfortunately). So, here are some tips for starting out on your recovery journey. While some of these are uncomfortable, I know from working with hundreds of people with gambling problems, that the people who do all of these are much less likely to relapse than the people who 'cherry-pick' the easier ones.
One of the biggest issues with problem gambling (Gambling Disorder/Compulsive Gambling/Pathological Gambling/Gambling Addiction) - apart from the fact that it clearly has way too many names - is the lack of understanding that exists about how a person can become addicted to a behaviour in the first place. Because there is no addictive substance, like alcohol or nicotine, involved - most people believe that stopping gambling should be as easy as steering clear of the Betting Shop or deleting a gambling app from your phone. The reality is that it's far more challenging and complicated than that.
So, I've boiled down some of the reasons why so many people develop problems with gambling, in an effort to demystify and simplify things.
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.
Episode 1 of a new podcast, aiming to explore a wide variety of topics, surrounding problem gambling and gambling related harm. Presented by Tony O'Reilly and Barry Grant, this is an awareness raising project of registered charities, Problem Gambling Ireland and Extern. Barry Grant is an addiction counsellor and the founder of Problem Gambling Ireland. Tony O'Reilly is an addiction counsellor, author and expert by experience. In this first episode we discuss Tony's lived experience of addiction and recovery.
If you would like to send us any questions or ideas for discussion topics in future episodes, just email email@example.com, in complete confidence.
Also available on Spotify.
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."
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
How many lies have you told today? How many lies have you told so that you could gamble today? How many lies have you told to keep your gambling hidden from the people around you….your partner, children, parents, brother, sister, friend, team-mate, colleague, employer, the bank, the credit union? How many lies have you told yourself? Maybe you went to sleep last night and your mind was frantic with thoughts of how you could keep things going or believing that, tomorrow, you could have a big win and everything would be ok? Maybe you woke up and those same thoughts were still there, along with a sick feeling in your stomach?
The opportunity to gamble is all around us and technological advances mean that we can gamble in all sorts of ways 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Most people can enjoy an occasional bet but for others there is a downward spiral and what started out with a ‘harmless’ bet ends with financial, psychological and social devastation.
The progression from recreational gambling to problem gambling generally happens in 4 phases:
The first phase ‘winning’ begins with social gambling during which, at some point, the individual experiences a big win. The excitement of the win provides a psychological ‘hit’ and winning is seen as easy.
As the gambling becomes more frequent, the law of averages takes over and the person enters the ‘losing’ phase. Some people develop insight and stop gambling completely or return to having an occasional bet. Others are unable to control their gambling and problems develop as it becomes a priority over family, friendship, work, education and other aspects of their lives.
As the gambling behaviour becomes more prevalent, the third phase ‘chasing’ begins when the person focuses on chasing their losses, gambling more and more frequently in an attempt to win back previous losses. Problem gamblers might take on additional work in order to fund their gambling or pay gambling debts. They may borrow from family or friends, get loans, steal and in other ways exploit family members, friends and colleagues. The individual often has feelings of guilt, shame and increased anxiety but the gambling continues.
The fourth phase ‘desperation’ leaves the individual feeling hopeless. The individual has tried to gamble their way out of a desperate financial situation but failed. Feelings of fear, isolation, depression and guilt become overwhelming and suicide attempts are common. Many problem gamblers continue to gamble, even in the desperation phase but the thrill of the action is sought rather than the money.
The negative impact problem gambling can have on people’s lives has been highlighted recently in the media with the publication of Declan Lynch and Tony O’Reilly’s book ‘Tony 10’ and Baz Ashmawy’s documentary ‘All Bets Are Off’. Many problem gamblers describe how gambling becomes a priority over everyone and everything else in their lives and the preoccupation with gambling brings a feeling of loss of control. The consequences can be devastating for the individual, the family unit and the wider social circle. Family members of problem gamblers describe feeling ashamed, hurt, helpless, afraid, isolated, angry, confused and distrustful. They often struggle to understand how an otherwise rational person can have behaved so irrationally. Many relationships are unable to survive the financial, psychological and emotional fallout and the family unit may break down.
Problem gambling behaviour can frequently go unnoticed. Unlike other addictions, there are no physical signs that something is wrong - no needle marks, no smell of alcohol, no staggering home. Also frequent gambling brings an occasional win and this facilitates the secrecy and can strengthen the level of denial. In my work as a psychotherapist and having completed a number of research studies on the issue of problem gambling, the hidden nature of this addiction is clear. Despite the growing numbers of people experiencing difficulty with their own or a family member’s gambling behaviour, the number of people presenting for counselling treatment is relatively low. The secrecy involved also means that unfortunately the illness is generally well-advanced before help is sought.
Recovery from problem gambling is not easy but it can and does happen. There are a number of services available to help people work towards recovery which are listed in the ‘Resources’ section of this website. Psychotherapy is one such option. Psychotherapy provides clients with the opportunity to explore any issues or problems that they are experiencing in a safe, supportive, non-judgmental and confidential environment.
In my work with clients, the therapeutic relationship is key and the establishment of a strong working alliance with each client based on empathy, mutual trust and respect is vital. For me, the work with someone presenting with problem gambling behaviour requires an open, empathic relationship which is non-judgmental while also strongly challenging the addictive behaviour. The work involves slowing down and calming the frantic thinking, helping the client gain an awareness of how their behaviour is impacting their lives and the lives of the people around them, and supporting the client so that they themselves can confront reality. Clients often describe how losing the need to lie can bring huge relief, a sense of freedom and peace of mind.
While the addictive behaviour needs to be addressed, I also support clients in looking behind the gambling to who they were before the addictive behaviour began and try to identify and explore the issues that led to the spiral into addiction. We generally find that gambling filled some sense of emptiness and part of recovery is finding new, healthy ways to fill that void. As the therapy progresses, we look beyond the gambling and reflect on the opportunities that recovery might bring as the client rediscovers (or maybe discovers for the first time) the life they want to live.
Acceptance of responsibility is an important part of the process of recovery. Change is supported when the client is able to accept what happened in the past and begin to focus on today, taking responsibility for present day decisions and actions. This concept of living in the day is central to the philosophy of the twelve step program of GA. GA is an important tool in recovery and clients are encouraged to participate in their meetings.
Problem gambling behaviour thrives on lies and secrecy and the further into the illness the bigger and the more frequent the lies and the greater the destruction. So if your gambling behaviour is becoming a concern or has gotten out of control, if you are chasing losses or feeling desperate, what would it be like to break that secrecy? What would it be like to not feel the need to lie? What would it be like to talk to someone honestly, open up about your distress and begin to work towards recovery?
Marie Lawlor is a Psychotherapist, based in Dublin 2. Marie's contact details are available here
Last week, I was fortunate to get an advance copy of a soon to be released book, 'Tony 10'. Although I had read much about the fall and rise of Tony O'Reilly, over the years (mostly the fall), I found myself very quickly being immersed in the world of Tony's extreme gambling addiction. This is, in part, due to the inimitable writing style of Declan Lynch - a man who has written about his own recovery (from alcoholism) and who has previously written two excellent books on gambling (Free Money & The Ponzi Man). The other part of this winning formula is the story itself.
Tony's story was headline news at the time. A post office manager stealing €1.75 million (in cash) from his employer, gambling every penny on his online account and going on the run to Carrickfergus (when the jig was finally up) is pretty newsworthy. What Declan and Tony have achieved with this book is to give a crystal clear insight into the mind of a man on an all-consuming, relentless downward spiral into the devastating madness of a gambling addiction. And while the figures are astronomical, the same story could be told of the person who is losing every penny they have on payday (or dole day).
One of the standout features of this book, is the fact that Declan had access to Tony's account history. Tony only ever had one online gambling account (with Paddy Power) - so every transaction could be followed in a clear timeline. Because of this, we get to see Tony's progress from making a €1 bet (from a €50 online voucher he had received as a gift) all the way up to winning - and then losing- nearly half a million over the course of two days.
Tony makes no bones about the fact that he is responsible for his actions and that he stole the money. This is undeniable and unjustifiable. However, it is mind-boggling that any gambling operator could ignore the extremely suspicious behaviour that Tony was exhibiting - without ever once raising concerns regarding money laundering, the source of his 'wealth' or the fact that he clearly had a massive gambling problem. In this case, it was Paddy Power, but it would be difficult to believe that any other gambling operator, licensed in Ireland, would have acted any differently. If ever there was an argument for gambling regulation in Ireland - Tony's case is it.
Tony's case (along with so many other cases of gambling related fraud) also highlights the need for stricter controls in workplaces. Tony was regularly gambling at work, while also stealing vast amounts of money and managing to make it through several audits. A large proportion of the people who contact our service have stolen from their employer to feed their gambling.
While most of the book is like watching a car hurtling towards a cliff edge, it does end on a positive note. After Tony's time in treatment (in Cuan Mhuire), followed by his prison sentence, Tony trains to become an addiction counsellor. I really hope that Tony's work as a counsellor, along with his story, can help others to recover from gambling addiction.
It was the 25 of September 2017 and it was just like a 100 other days for me. I was finishing work early and already the thoughts of having a gambling flutter were running around in my head, building up to the usual irresistible urge where I just can’t say no. I work in Dublin so getting to a venue where my favourite type of gambling is operated is more accessible than I would like it to be. In recent times I was getting fed up of facilitating my gambling with the monotonous journey in to the city centre. This coupled with the difficulties of parking and changes in route layouts lead me to find myself a 24 hour casino/arcade which operated automated table roulette and slot machines at the Santry Omniplex. It was out of the way with no parking problems or costs.
Automated table roulette has been my gamble of choice for some time now which in some places allows a maximum bet of between 250 to 500 euro every 30 seconds or so. They are equally as addictive and dangerous as the fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTS) currently under siege in the UK. I had also self excluded myself from a large number of venues and could not longer go there as the majority of gambling premises strictly adhere to a self exclude request. The big step I had taken on the 25 October 2016 was to hand over complete control of my finances to my brother. This meant that I hadn’t got the freedom to gamble all my money at any time and devastate my finances in a flash. I have taken steps over the last year or two to put as many obstacles in my way as possible to prevent me from gambling.
While I had handed over control of my finances, with my income going to an account set up with my brother, I only managed to stay bet free until late February 2017. I can’t remember why or how I got to that place where I made a bad choice and commenced to gamble again but, it happened. While I was gambling with much less money, the behaviour was the same. Telling little lies to account for missing time, running out of money, not having money for the basics of food etc and then as a result of getting the maximum amount of money without raising suspicion having to wait a day or two before asking for more money. This year I did everything differently, I recorded the amounts of money I gambled and I recorded the dates on which I had gambled. This allowed me to look very closely at my gambling patterns and indeed the frequency of my betting. Having looked at those patterns since stopping on the 25 September I noticed that gambling was becoming less frequent than it had been in the past as I passed through the year. I hadn’t examined my gambling patterns in this way before and it has made me very conscious of how reckless my past behaviour has been.
As soon as I was finished work on that September Monday I made my way to my car and drove to Santry Omniplex. I had the usual thoughts of what I was going to do with the winnings which in a way are a little ridiculous. This is particularly so, as I will never take winnings. I will gamble as long as the available money will allow me to gamble. I got to the door. The sign on the door says ‘members only, but as usual I pressed the buzzer and a member of staff let me in. No question as to who I was, whether I was a member or check to see if I was somebody who shouldn’t be let in. I walked straight up stairs to my preferred automated roulette table, sat at the position I always sat at and put my money note in the slot. It sucked it in and the usual sounds emanated from the machine as it decided which note bill it was and clocked the credit up on the machine. The intensity of my urges had been building up since I had decided that I was going to gamble. Even as the note was going into the machine it almost felt like something had been injected in to me easing the urge and giving me some form of satisfaction. It wasn’t until I placed the first bet and the wheel was spinning that I started to feel at ease. It was probably a little like how somebody else would look forward to a holiday or a concert. I was now going into my own little world of escapism. A world where you forget about everything else that was going on in your life, nothing or no one mattered while you gambled on each spin of the wheel. Even the consequences of how your life was going to be after you lost all your money didn’t matter. Incredible, but true.
15 minutes or so later, my world of escape came to a crashing end after I placed my bet and the remnants of my money/credits disappeared before my eyes. I had as usual placed some sort of bet on at least three quarters of the numbers on the roulette table but somehow, miraculously the ball fell on a number I didn’t have and my credit rolled to zero. This was a regular feature of the roulette machine, it either lands on a number near your number with the potential of the biggest win or gives you a win which was less than your stake with all the sounds of a big win. (Gambling Addiction by Design) Suddenly, it was back to reality like coming out of a semi hypnotic trance. My immediate thoughts were focussed on how I was going to continue to gamble. After considering whether it was a viable option to contact my brother or not I decided to call him and came up with plausible story as to why I needed to money. Very quickly I had some more money in my account. I couldn’t wait to draw it out of the wall, incidentally, on the same building as the casino. How convenient! Pressed the door buzzer just like earlier and very quickly I was back sitting at the roulette table trying to figure out which number was coming next. Was there a pattern? What number was likely to come up? There are only 36 numbers and one zero. It couldn’t be that difficult! It must be because on occasions I had put bets on every single number with the exception of one or two and guess what? Yes one of the two numbers that I didn’t put anything on came up. Can you imagine the frustration? For some people, it makes them extremely angry and they end up banging machines and shouting loudly and aggressively. Fortunately, for me, I have become resigned to the outcomes and I suppose deep down I know that I am going to lose and there’s not much point in getting angry any more.
My refill of money didn’t last very long. I tried one set of numbers the others came up. No matter what I did I couldn’t win. While I wasn’t angry I was very frustrated and I started to feel real bad as my last few credits were taken away from me leaving me with an empty pocket and probably no money for a couple of days. The same feelings as if I had lost thousands in that one session.
Thoughts went through my head questioning the reasoning and indeed why do I keep doing this to myself. I was really fed up of this continuous cycle of self destruction and self torture. Why? I don’t suppose I will ever know but I had enough. I thought to myself, I just can’t keep doing this. I am having a life but in parallel I’m having no life. I went down stairs and approached the cashier’s desk and told the guy behind the counter that I wanted to self exclude myself from the premises. He asked me if I was a member and I replied ‘that I wasn’t!’ Surprise! Surprise! If he had checked when I entered the premises he would have known that. Nevertheless he asked me for some ID and I gave him my driving licence and he recorded the details. I left the building and headed for home feeling really fed up of what I had been doing to myself.
I haven’t gambled since and I have no intention of doing so. A few days after stopping, I went to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting at Cuan Mhuire in Athy, Co. Kildare. This is one of my favourite meetings as there are regularly gambling addicts in treatment there and it gives a degree of revisiting where you have come from which is not always present at other meetings. While I have now passed 90 days it hasn’t always been easy with urges presenting themselves here and there but I have been able to deal with them and resist the temptation to give up my recovery. I don’t think it is worth it anymore. The cost and the loss is much greater than money alone. The improvement in my life in a few short months completely justifies that abstention from betting. During this time I have also had a few incidents in my life which would in other circumstances sent me on a betting rampage.
What have I been doing to keep myself from gambling? Firstly, I want to stop gambling, change my life and start living a normal life. I have wanted this since I have become a gambling addict but I had never been able to achieve it. That being the big motivator, there has been other difficulties to get over. I don’t know how many other gambling addicts experience this but since stopping I have found it difficult to treat myself or spend money on myself. I don’t know if that is because in the past the idea of protecting your gambling source and saving your money for the bet still sub consciously takes place in your head. Maybe in some way I still want to punish myself as I have done through gambling. It got a little bit better over Christmas and I managed to have a good time. Gambling has also been a means of isolating myself and I find it difficult to partake in social occasions. I have a complete aversion to social gatherings and the potential for connecting. For some strange reason I don’t have that difficulty with Gamblers Anonymous. While there were a few social gatherings over Christmas I got through them and I really have to start looking at association in a different way.
Overall, I don’t keep much money on my person, I only request the amount I need and avoid asking for larger amounts of money unless I need it. Over Christmas this arose as I needed larger amounts of money for gifts for my partner etc. When I got the money, the urge and temptation immediately presented itself and I managed to resist.
However, it would have been just as easy to go gambling but I know if I make the wrong choice I’m back to square one just like snakes and ladders and I really don’t want to go back to the start. I now keep in touch with other recovering gamblers more than I have done in the past and this also has helped somewhat. I am active participant on twitter promoting all things that advocate help and assistance in problem gambling. This is probably the area that helps me most. I now have over 700 followers and I regularly tweet information, articles and other bits and pieces which I feel may be of interest to those that follow me. It has also enabled me to connect with other gamblers, counsellors and others around the world who have an interest in all things problem gambling related.
With 2018 just around the corner I am starting to look forward to a much brighter future, a clearer mind and a normal life. It isn’t much for anyone to expect. Recovery is my key task and through my recovery I hope to help others achieve abstention. I know for some people recovery takes a long time and is taking a long time for me. Making the right choices, considering the disaster of relapse a single day at a time will aid my path to a normal and bet free life. Have a happy bet free 2018.
**Editor: Massive thanks to @CompulsiveG for another excellent post. Keep fighting the good fight! You can follow @CompulsiveG on Twitter, for more insights into all things problem gambling-related.**
They say Christmas is a time for reflection and the New Year a time for new beginnings.
When I was asked to write this blog I started reflecting on my last few Christmases, some
while I was gambling and others when free from Gambling.
When I was preparing for a talk I gave at a gambling seminar in September this year I was
going through my online betting history for some power point slides. The scale and
frequency of the bets were two things that really stood out; however, another thing that
caught my eye was that over the years when gambling I had been placing bets on Christmas
Day. Not for events on that day, but for events on St Stephen's day, such as racing and football.
On a day when I should have been enjoying spending time with my family I couldn’t help but
check in with my best friend at the time: ‘Paddy Power’. Maybe knowing that I had the bet
placed, helped me get through that day, or made me feel normal.
In 2011 my gambling finally caught up with me. I had stolen money from my employer in
order to fund my gambling addiction. In July that year this had been discovered and I went to
treatment in Cuan Mhuire, Athy. It was a 3 month residential programme and I celebrated my
Daughter’s first birthday there. Not the ideal setting for a birthday party but I knew that I
needed to be there. I finished the programme in October but the relationships with my wife
and family were extremely strained. That Christmas should have been a joyful time, as it was
my daughter’s first real Christmas: she was 16 months old at the time. For me, it was tinged
with sadness, guilt, regret, shame and the fear of what was to come. I remember that,
although I was free from gambling, it was not a happy time. I was still numb. Anger and
resentment were very evident as my family were still getting to terms with what I had done. I
had embarrassed both myself and them with my actions.
Christmas one year on: my actions were rightly punished as I was sentenced to 4 years in
Prison with 1 suspended for false accounting and theft. I spent Christmas week settling into
my new environment and cell in the midlands prison. The highlight of that Christmas in C
wing was the Eastender’s Cliff-hanger when it was revealed which one of the Branning
brothers had been having an affair with Kat Moon. Such is the need for escapism in Prison
that the soaps are hugely popular. The following week I rang in the New Year with Imelda
May amidst the surreal noise of brushes and dinner trays banging off cell doors. I recall this
being a happier time for me even though I was away from my family. There was a real sense
of relief that I had reached this part of my journey. I had been waiting over a year for
sentencing and now that I knew my fate I could get my head down and try get my life back
on track. I felt back in control.
I spent the following Christmas in an open prison and on my own. I had lost my marriage at
this stage but was still bet free. I was really starting to rebuild my life and even though I was
still in Prison I was content. I had starting my counselling course that September and was
aware that the following year there was a good chance that I would be out on Community
Return and get to spend Christmas with my family.
The following year I did get to spend Christmas with my family. However, my mother had
lost her brave battle with cancer and passed away on the 13th of December. It was a sad time;
especially for me personally. I didn’t get to rebuild the damaged relationship with her as I
wasn’t long out of Prison when she died. Even to this day it is a huge regret that she didn’t
get to see me turn my life completely around. I can only hope that she is looking down and
feeling proud. Christmas that year was really tough and my feeling of loss was huge. I was
now over 3 years free from gambling and studying to be an addiction counsellor. My
relationship with my daughter was getting stronger and this bond was the real driving force
for me in my recovery.
Christmas 2015 was when I met my current partner and this was my happiest Christmas for
well over a decade. I really felt that 2016 was going to be a good year. Positive things were
starting to happen for me. I was starting to reap the rewards for all the hard work I put into
my recovery. I had my challenges and obstacles but discovered new ways of coping and
dealing with what life threw at me.
Talking and being open and honest was a new concept to me but today it is what keeps me
from not going back to my old ways. In March 2016 I started my new role in Dublin as an
addiction counsellor. I have been working there since and am seeing a lot with clients with
gambling addictions. I am using both my training and my own personal experience to try
help people who are struggling with this horrendous and growing problem.
I count myself as one of the lucky ones who have managed to break free of the shackles of
problem gambling. I am looking forward to my 7th Christmas bet free and am very grateful to
be able to enjoy it for what it is supposed to be. However, I am also very aware that there are
tens of thousands of people out there struggling with the fallout of their gambling or that of a
family member, friend or work colleague. For them, Christmas this year will be a time of
extreme stress, hurt and money worries. I have been there and it is not a nice place to be
especially at this time of year.
The good news for anyone reading this that is affected by problem gambling is that there is
help out there. Organisations such as The Rutland Centre and Cuan Mhuire provide
residential treatment for people suffering with gambling problems. Other Organisations such
as Problem Gambling Ireland provide all kinds of support for both the problem gambler and
their families. Also, Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon (Family & Friends) meetings are available,
nationwide. I know that going to treatment saved my life and helped me cope with going to
prison and with getting my life back on track. It has been really hard at times but the support
I have received over the years has played a huge part in my recovery. I wouldn’t be in such a
good place had it not being for the kindness and help from numerous amazing people.
For me personally, the most important aspect of recovery and my first step in dealing with
this addiction was accepting that I had a problem. I then had to take responsibility for my
actions and really want to change. I had to find new ways of coping and make a new life for
myself that didn’t have gambling as the focal point. I have managed to this because of sheer
determination to have a better life for myself, my partner and my daughter. I had to get past
the ego, pride and fear and ask for help. This isn’t an easy thing to do and my one real regret
is that I didn’t look for help earlier. I had to really hit the ‘rock bottom’ before I was open to
the healing process. If I was to offer one piece of advice to anyone this Christmas who is
suffering either directly or indirectly with a gambling problem, it is to reach out to someone
and ask for help.
I remember being asked the question at the Gambling Conference- “How are you now?”
I replied “I have never been in a better place, but it is a pity that I had to go to hell and back
to get here. “
**Editor** Huge thanks to Tony for sharing his experience of recovery from gambling. Tony is an addiction counsellor, working with Cuan Mhuire and in private practice. If you wish to contact Tony for counselling, his number is: 0894109813.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.