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.
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
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.**
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.
Barry Grant, Addiction Counsellor, Founder.