10 Mar Man Who ‘Gambled Away Mental Health’ Tells of Overcoming Obsession
Ex-gambling addict “Michael” (not his real name) was deep in debt and placing up to 100 bets every day, but it wasn’t until he found himself wagering on beach volleyball that he came to understand he had a serious problem.
Michael tells his story of his descent into an addiction that would ultimately cost him tens of thousands of dollars. If you’re struggling with gambling addiction, his story may evoke uncomfortable twinges of recognition, but if you aren’t, it could open your eyes to just how serious gambling addiction can get.
Michael started gambling on greyhound racing as a teen. He had a “scatter-gun” approach to betting, using a television-based information service called Teletext to get updates on sporting events and facilitate his gambling on an increasingly large number of sports, including ones he had little, if any, knowledge of. Despite the worsening situation, he thought he had his gambling under control, and even had a lot of money from time to time.
It wasn’t until he started “chasing” his losses (placing compensatory bets to make up for previous failures) that things started to get a lot worse. He found himself placing 80 to 100 bets per day, and landed himself in €35,000 (around $45,000) worth of debt in just a year. After another year, the amount he owed had doubled. He said, “The big thing for me was not the money. It was gambling away my mental health.”
Michael found himself lying to his family and eventually lost his job as a result of his gambling. He finally realized what was going on and went to visit a doctor, who pointed him toward Gamblers Anonymous. He said that in the first six months he’d stopped gambling but wasn’t truly changing his ways. As he started to attend more meetings, he began taking a more holistic view of the problem by avoiding watching the races, not buying lottery scratch tickets and not hanging around with friends who gambled.
When he got home from meetings, though, he said “the only button I could see on the TV remote control was the Teletext button. It was like a beacon.” Eventually he took an extreme step and sliced the button off with a penknife, feeling like it was his only option. Now, years later, the debt he racked up is getting smaller and smaller. He adds, “Every month, the money goes out and it’s a reminder that you never want to get into that situation again.”
A Growing Problem
From Michael’s own experience with Gamblers Anonymous, he’s noticed that attendance at meetings has been notably increasing, with some 18- and 19-year-olds showing up alongside the older gamblers. Gamblers Anonymous representatives have been asked to make presentations at schools and prisons more frequently, potentially due to the introduction of smartphones and technology making it easier than ever to gamble. Michael argues that bookmakers don’t make most of their money from casual events like the Grand National (a big horse race held every year in Britain that is popular with gamblers), but instead from those struggling with gambling addiction.
While it may be hard to determine if you have a gambling addiction, there are many signs of a problem you should look out for. These include being secretive about your gambling, betting even when you don’t have money, being unable to walk away once you’ve started gambling (or chasing your losses), your gambling affecting your work or other responsibilities and your family or friends expressing concern about your behavior. If, like Michael, you think your gambling has gone beyond an occasional bet and has developed into a problem or compulsion, seeking help is vital. With the right support, you can overcome the issue one step at a time, making lasting changes in your life and repairing any damage that has been done. It isn’t easy, but just like Michael, you can do it.