How to Stop Gambling
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.
Do you want to help support people affected by problem gambling?
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In January 2016, I set up the website, www.problemgambling.ie. The aim was to provide a resource for people affected by gambling-related harm in Ireland, that was independent of the gambling industry. Our website traffic has been steadily growing, along with emails, texts and calls to our helpline. Yesterday, as Gamble Aware Ireland closed down, they redirected their website traffic to our site (with our consent). We expect to see a substantial increase in calls over the coming months.
In addition to the website and helpline service, we also provide outreach services, in the form of talks, workshops and training, nationwide. Our goal is to have at least one problem gambling specialist providing outreach, counselling and group facilitation services in each county.
Currently, we do not have a core funder, to cover the cost of a full-time helpline service. This means that, at present, we can only provide a 'call-back' service (as I am unable to take calls while I'm with counselling clients or delivering outreach). Our fundraising goal for 2018 is €96,000. This would cover the cost of two full-time staff to provide a full-time helpline and outreach service. It would also be used to cover travel and other related costs on the outreach service.
When I tell people what I do for a living, someone will usually say: 'You should get the bookies to pay for that'. And, of course there is a logic to that sentiment: the industry that creates the addictive product should pay to clean up 'their mess'. At a superficial level, this kind of makes sense. The problem with this approach, though, is that addiction services end up working for an industry that they are (or should be) in direct conflict with. International research has shown that between 40% and 60% of gambling industry profits come from people with gambling problems. There is no business in the world that would willingly exclude half of its customers.
Pope Francis recently said: “Gambling companies finance campaigns to care for the pathological gamblers that they create. And the day that the weapons industry finances hospitals to care for the children mutilated by their bombs, the system will have reached its pinnacle.” Scrape the surface and the conflict of interest is quite clear.
The Irish Government does not have a funding stream for problem gambling services. The HSE Service Plan does not mention the word 'gambling' once. Our proposal (in collaboration with the Rutland Center) that a portion of the Betting Duty, which brings in roughly €50 million per year, could be allocated to problem gambling services (instead of the Horse Racing & Greyhound Fund) was unsuccessful.
In short, we need your help.
A monthly donation of €10 per month from 800 people (or €5 per month from 1600 people) would have a radical impact on our ability to support the thousands of people in Ireland who are affected by gambling-related harm, as well as helping us to deliver preventative interventions to at-risk groups (children and young people, in particular).
In Ireland, 1 in 10 of us will be affected by gambling-related harm in our lifetimes. Half of the people who contact our service are family members in distress.
If you would like to help support people affected by problem gambling in Ireland, you can donate here: https://www.problemgambling.ie/donate.html
Barry Grant, CEO, Problem Gambling Ireland
Problem Gambling Ireland is a registered charity. RCN: 20154738
Guest Post: Losing the Need to Lie
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
Strategic Planning Survey Results
The results of our Strategic Planning Survey are now available. The full document (PDF) can be downloaded here. I would like to thank everybody who took the time to give their views. It makes for very interesting reading and certainly challenged some of my own views on key topics.
As much as possible, I attempted to balance my own bias when creating the questions. One example is Q14: "I am happy with the amount of gambling advertising on Irish media (including social media)". This is not my position, but I did not want to "lead" survey respondents by posing the question, based on my own biased view. It was interesting that, in the case of this question, over 92% of respondents either disagreed (24.29%) or strongly disagreed (68.57%) with the statement.
Other interesting results include:
The survey was sent to addiction workers, listed on the www.drugs.ie website, was shared on social media and was available on our website. While we are not claiming any statistical significance, the survey makes for interesting reading and has been invaluable in preparing our Strategic Planning for the next three years.
Barry Grant, CEO & Founder, Problem Gambling Ireland.
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.
Really excellent article from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). It defines gambling addiction (pathological gambling/gambling disorder) as well as looking at screening (diagnostic) tools, treatment options and prevention. Definitely worth a read (6 pages, PDF). You can download it here.
We are currently seeking participants for a gambling addiction support group, which will be delivered as an online service. The group will be run on a pilot basis in order to assess the demand for this type of service, as well as its effectiveness. We will initially be looking for 7 participants who feel that their gambling is at a problematic level. The group will be facilitated by me (Barry Grant). I am a qualified addiction counsellor (B.A. Degree in Counselling Skills & Addiction Studies) and a fully accredited member of the Association of Professional Counsellors & Psychotherapists in Ireland (APCP). I am also a qualified SMART Recovery group facilitator.
Participants will need access to a computer, or internet-enabled device (smartphone/tablet) and an internet connection. We plan to run the group on Friday evenings. The meetings will be hosted on this site: https://appear.in/pgimeeting The meeting room is currently 'locked' and will only be open 5 minutes prior to agreed meeting times. The online meeting can be accessed through a web-browser (Chrome or Firefox) or by using the appear.in app, which is available for from the Apple App Store (iPhone/iPad) and from the Google Play Store (Android). Participants can join the meeting anonymously and have the option of communicating via voice, voice & video and/or web-chat.
If you are interested in joining this meeting, please fill out our contact form. This can be done anonymously, however we will need an email address or mobile phone number which we can contact you at in order to let you know when the meetings will begin. We will only ever use your contact details in order to let you know about the first meeting.
Participants will need to be aged 18, or over, and be resident in the Republic of Ireland. This service will be provided free of charge. The meetings will be 90 minutes in duration. The meetings will be operated on a CBT model (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
If you have any questions, please fill out the contact form or email: info [at] problemgambling.ie
If you could share this post on social media, it would be greatly appreciated.
Barry Grant - Founder - Problem Gambling Ireland
The Gambling Industry seem to want to place the onus for responsible gambling solely with their customers. It would be nice to see industry members taking responsibility for operating ethically. At present, bookmakers in Ireland take bets on children's sporting events. The GAA have made a proposal to government that the Gambling Control Bill, the Heads of which were published in 2013, would legislate against gambling on juvenile sports. In the meantime, the Gambling Industry could and should do the decent thing and end this practice voluntarily. However, in a statement to the Irish Tines yesterday, both Paddy Power and Boyle Sports refused to do so.
In a research paper into problem gambling in Ireland, published by UCD last year, they found that problem gambling in adolescents was 2-3 times that of adults. Gambling on the outcome of children's sports only serves to introduce minors to the world of gambling, which, of course, benefits the Gambling Industry while also increasing the potential for gambling-related harm.
An excellent article in yesterday's Guardian newspaper (06.01.16) claims that the Chair of the UK's Responsible Gambling Trust (RGT) - a charity funded by the gambling industry - lobbied on behalf of that industry.
Just like the alcohol industry in Ireland, the gambling industry encourages you to 'enjoy gambling responsibly' and directs you to the Gamble Aware website (the alcohol equivalent being Drink Aware). Alcohol addiction has an independent organisation with 'teeth' - Alcohol Action Ireland - ready to take on the vested interests, lobby government and actively raise awareness. To date, there has been no such organisation dedicated to gambling addiction in Ireland.