Gambling Addiction: Spotting the Problem and Getting Help

GAMBLING has become ingrained in UK culture and millions of us enjoy a flutter every week.

According to Gambling Commission statistics, almost half of the population (46 per cent) have placed a bet in the last four weeks. That has helped to make gambling a £14billion industry but like every big business, it has its dark side.

Adverts for gambling constantly urge punters to show restraint, saying: “When the fun stops, stop.” But many people simply can’t resist the urge to keep on waging money, crippled by a powerful addiction.

The Gambling Commission has estimated that around two million people in the UK are either problem gamblers or at risk of addiction. And there are countless tales of lives, marriages and careers ruined by the crippling debts that usually accompany gambling addiction.

However, even if you find yourself in deep trouble, it’s never too late to seek help and turn your life around. It may often seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel but it is always possible to emerge from the darkness.

HOW CAN I TELL IF I’M A PROBLEM GAMBLER?

The NHS has a system that helps people to understand if they have a problem with gambling. It involves nine questions and you score one point each time you answer “sometimes”, two points for “most of the time” and three points for “almost always”. Here are the questions: 

  1. Do you bet more than you can afford to lose?
  2. Do you need to gamble with larger amounts of money to get the same feeling?
  3. Have you tried to win back the money you have lost?
  4. Have you borrowed money or sold anything to get money to gamble?
  5. Have you wondered whether you have a problem with gambling?
  6. Has your gambling caused you any health problems, including feelings of stress or anxiety?
  7. Have other people criticised your betting or told you that you had a gambling problem (regardless of whether or not you thought it was true)?
  8. Has your gambling caused any financial problems for you or your household?
  9. Have you ever felt guilty about the way you gamble or what happens when you gamble?

If you add up your tally and the score is eight or higher then you may be a problem gambler and it’s time to seek help.

HOW CAN I STOP MY GAMBLING FROM GETTING OUT OF HAND?

Set a budget and never chase your losses: It’s always a huge disappointment when a bet fails to come up, especially when you’ve lumped a large sum of money on it. But digging further into your funds in a bid to make amends is a recipe for disaster. You should always set a budget for your gambling, be it a weekly, monthly or annual sum. If a loss leaves you with an empty account, wait until the next week or month before topping it up with your usual sum.

Make sure all your financial obligations are met before you set a gambling budget: Debts get out of hand when you fail to make repayments and deviate from your budget. Before setting aside any money for gambling, make sure you have paid your mortgage/rent, council tax, bills and have enough cash left to feed you and your family. Never bet more than you can afford.

Don’t view gambling as a chance to make extra money: If you start depending on gambling income then you can quickly get into trouble. This invariably will lead to you chasing losses and ending up in deeper financial trouble. Gambling should be entertainment, with any money earned a nice bonus. Unless you a professional poker player, stick to your day job for a steady income.

Talk to family and friends if you are worried about your gambling: Bottling things up is not the way to deal with any debts accrued from your gambling. If you find yourself losing money at an alarming rate, you should always come clean to your loved ones. The first step towards battling an addiction is admitting you have a problem. You will find it a lot easier to fight your addiction if you have help from family and friends. Even if you have a lot of willpower, it’s incredibly difficult to win the war on your own.

Find other things to do with your free time: If you find that gambling has become your hobby then you are in danger of addiction. Keep track of how many hours a week you are spending on placing bets and try to reduce that time. If you gamble on your phone while watching TV then try to put the phone down and give the TV your full attention instead. Find other pursuits to keep you busy and make sure that gambling doesn’t dominate your free time. Try to watch live sport without putting a wager on. You may find yourself enjoying the game more because you aren’t preoccupied with your bets coming up.  

WHERE CAN I TURN TO FOR HELP?

There are several organisations out there who can offer help and advice. They have staff who are experts in dealing with addiction and can start you on the road to recovery. 

GamCare have a National Gambling Helpline that you can phone any time for help and advice. The number is 0809 8020 133. They also have face-to-face counselling if you prefer. Their website (www.gamcare.org.uk) is a great resource and offers live chat, group chat and forums plus a series of articles that can help with your addiction.

Gamblers Anonymous offers advice and support for addicts as well as their family and friends. They have recovery meetings across the country that you can attend.

Their helpline is 0370 050 8880 while you can email info@gamblersanonymous.org.uk or contact them through their website at www.gamblersanonymous.org.uk.

There is also a separate site for Gamblers Anonymous Scotland at https://gascotland.org. Their helpline is 0370 050 8881 and the email address is info@gascotland.org.

The NHS run a National Problem Gambling Clinic but this is only available for people aged over 16 in England and Wales with complex gambling problems.

However, there is a growing campaign to have a similar clinic available in Scotland. To see if you qualify for help, email gambling.cnwl@nhs.net or call 020 7381 7722.

The Gordon Moody Association offers residential courses for problem gamblers. Their website (www.gordonmoody.org.uk) is another great resource and you can contact them through the site, by email at help@gordonmoody.org.uk or by calling 01384 241292.

It also runs the Gambling Therapy website (www.gamblingtherapy.org/en) which offers support groups both online and in person for gamblers and those affected by problem gambling.

HOW CAN I HELP SOMEONE WHO IS A GAMBLING ADDICT?

If you have a family member or friend who is a problem gambler then it’s important to show compassion and understanding. Although you may be angry or feel betrayed, you have to understand that your loved one is suffering from an illness.

It’s unrealistic to expect an addict just to stop as they will be unable to do so unless they receive help. Addiction brings shame and guilt and that makes it hard for some people to admit they have a problem.

Try to talk calmly and objectively to anyone you suspect of being addicted to gambling.

The first step towards recovery is getting them to admit they have a problem. Once this happens, you can help them get in touch with the organisations listed above who will be able to offer more practical advice and support than you can. 

Beating addiction is a long and torturous prospect. There will likely be a few relapses along the way but it’s all about how the addict recovers from these slips. If you are there each time to offer support and love it will be easier for them to get back on track. 

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