Lives Ruined by Gambling Addiction in the UK
These stories of gambling addiction are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems this addiction causes everyday around the world.
From professional footballers to local shopkeepers, gambling addiction stories have been making headlines lately in the UK. People from all walks of life are losing everything to gambling addiction and some former addicts are now campaigning to raise awareness about the destructive nature of this often hidden addiction.
One woman who grew up near a famous racing track calls herself Britain’s worst gambler. Jo Wheatley, 47, placed her first bet when she was just 14-years-old, after her father snuck her into the Epsom race course next to their home. She says she was instantly hooked and after 30 years of gambling which led to her declaring bankruptcy and racking up an additional £250,000 in debt, she is now in recovery.
“My children would sit and watch me gamble, they would beg me to take them to the park or the shops, but I would refuse,” she says. “The kids really missed out on quality time with their mum, which I feel guilty about.”
She tried Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which helped her quit her gambling addiction for a short time, but she soon relapsed when an accident left her unable to work. After a second attempt at CBT in 2013 she says she has stopped gambling, but knows the urge will always be there. She now understands that like a recovering alcoholic who cannot have just one drink, she can never make just one bet.
While Jo’s £250,000 debt is extensive, footballer Matthew Etherington has struggled with a gambling addiction throughout his career and says he lost an unbelievable £1.5 million on betting which left him £800,000 in debt and cost him his marriage. The 34-year-old retired from football in 2014 after an injury and now regularly attends Gamblers Anonymous meetings.
Another young British gambling addict, Dharmesh Mukesh Kumar Patel, 24, was recently sentenced to 18 months in jail for stealing £61,098 from his employers. He allegedly abused his position as a purchase ledger clerk to divert payments into his own personal bank account.
By the time the fraud was discovered, he was serving a separate 10 month jail sentence for previous fraud charges in which he stole £90,000 from a Northampton business where he formerly worked.
Patel is now enrolled in Gamblers Anonymous and his family is helping to prevent it from happening again by taking charge of his finances.
A shop manager in Southport was also arrested for stealing £11,500 of lottery scratchcards to feed his addiction. Michael Fay says he knew that what he was doing could have severe consequences, but the lure of his gambling addiction convinced him that he would eventually win big and be able to pay back the debt. He was sentenced to 10 months in jail and ordered to repay what he stole.
Former school governor, David Bradford, was also jailed after stealing more than £50,000 from his employer to fuel an online gambling addiction. Bradford was able to keep his addiction and spiralling debts a secret from his family for years until his arrest.
But while it can be easy to focus on the huge monetary losses and fraudulent behaviour of some gambling addicts, gambling addiction causes much more than financial distress; it can destroy lives just like alcoholism or drug addiction.
That is why David Bradford is now is joining his son, 23-year-old Adam Bradford, to raise awareness about the destruction gambling addiction causes and urge the government to take action to help prevent future cases. The two are campaigning for legislation that creates limits on the amount people can bet, tightens control on advertising, and builds better systems for rehabilitation.
David says currently you can spend £300 a minute and £18,000 an hour gambling online — it is practically unregulated. It is frightening that you can lose a whole week’s wages in one hour of gambling, but for gambling addicts the compulsion is stronger than logic — which is why so many otherwise successful people turn to theft and deceit and find themselves in jail due to their addiction.
In their latest letter to government officials, the father and son are calling for an independent inquiry to better research the impacts of gambling addiction on communities. The only current research is funded by the gambling industry and likely underestimates the number of people struggling with the disorder.
The Facts about Gambling Addiction and its Treatment
In the stories above, themes of lying, deceit, theft, failed relationships with spouses and children, shame and guilt, as well as severe financial distress run through all the cases. And the individuals who made the headlines are not alone in their struggle.
Approximately 350,000 people in the UK suffer from gambling addiction, and this figure could be a gross underestimate. Gambling is extremely addictive, yet public awareness about the addictive nature of playing games to win money is limited.
Every year in the UK over 7 billion pounds is spent on gambling. It is easier than ever before to access gambling, and many of the gambling addicts in the stories above were slaves to online gambling sites. Increased gambling outlets coupled with economic pressure triggered by the global recession has caused a surge in the number of people experiencing problems with gambling.
However, of those who struggle with gambling problems very few seek help. Only around 5 percent of people ask for help and 1 percent receive specialised treatment for their gambling addiction in the UK.
Gambling addiction is a process addiction that affects the brain in a similar way to drug or alcohol addictions. Every time a bet is placed, the brain’s reward system is activated and neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin flood the brain. Like other addictions, gambling addiction is a complex disorder that affects all aspects of one’s life and therefore requires comprehensive treatment to overcome.
12 Step programmes can help gamblers regain control of their lives and offer support from others who have experienced, and overcome, their addiction. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has also been shown to be an effective treatment for gambling addiction.
For some people who need gambling addiction help the best option is to enter an addiction treatment centre such as The Cabin Chiang Mai. Comprehensive addiction treatment programmes will help clients address underlying problems as well as understand their addiction and work to build healthy lives in addiction recovery.