• Gambling addiction is an issue affecting an increasing number of people in the UK

  • Vicki Copperwaite explores the issue and how therapy can help you overcome it

  • If you are struggling with an addition, you can find a therapist here

Gambling addiction is characterised by the need to gamble with larger amounts of money to achieve the same excitement and like drug use, tolerance is built over time. The gambler may find that they are restless or irritable when they attempt to reduce or stop gambling. Gambling may be in the gambler's thoughts constantly – always thinking of ways to get back the money they have lost or planning their next bet. Gamblers are prone to gambling when there is a stressful situation – using it as a way of escaping the world and retreating into a ‘gambling bubble’.

Anybody can develop a gambling addiction, regardless of their financial situation – some of my clients don’t work, others work in high salary jobs but the reality is that the amount spent is usually relative to earnings – if you earn £20 and spend £20 then you’re in no better or worse position than someone who earns £5000 and spends £5000.

Gambling addiction can be one of the easiest addictions to hide.

Socially, gambling is everywhere – the adverts come into our homes at all times of day and night can make it even harder for someone when they are working on their addiction, as there seems to be no escape. These adverts can feel like a real violation. This saturation of gambling advertising has led to some people who would never go into a bookies accessing gambling online. For some, the online community offers anonymity and companionship as well as entertainment. The marketing is also very clever – many daytime adverts are aimed at women, the advertising industry believing (perhaps correctly) that there is a lot of stay at home mums or carers who possibly need an outlet.

Gambling addiction can be one of the easiest addictions to hide - not showing any physical signs that are present with alcohol or drug misuse. Gambling addicts may be withdrawn, depressed, snappy and irritable after a loss but these are easy symptoms to explain away with the excuse of the daily stresses of life.

Once the urge becomes so all consuming, there is no thought of loved ones or consequences.

For those family members that do find out, partners and families often feel that the gambler is ‘choosing’ gambling over them, but the reality is that once the urge becomes so all consuming, there is no thought of loved ones or consequences, it is all about getting that hit of getting the bet placed. Indeed in our modern world of technology, that urge can now be fed 24/7 with online gambling. Gamblers can place bets on sports from all over the world, it doesn’t matter that they know nothing about the team; it’s about the rush from putting that bet on. 

According to the Gambling Addiction.org, it is estimated that 350,000 are suffering a gambling addiction in the UK. In 2010, the Gambling Commission carried out research which showed that in the UK, 0.9% of people participating in gambling had a gambling problem. With the increased access and growing industry, along with the explosion of marketing, this problem will only increase as time goes on; indeed personally, I have seen an increase in the number of people with gambling problems. Counselling is one of the most effective tools in helping you to overcome a gambling addiction. The people that I have seen have made great progress by working on their triggers using CBT; finding possible reasons for their need to gamble in their experiences and relationships.

Some people find that they need to work on a programme of reduction whilst others need to go ‘cold turkey’. Your therapist will be able to work with you to find out which method best suits you. Your therapist should also be able to offer you practical tips with regards to strategies to help you when an urge comes, how to cope with financial responsibility and also signposting to debt management companies.

With regards to why people gamble, I find that there is a pretty even split between clients who have a root cause in their past of some kind of traumatic event which hasn’t been dealt with and so we work on that and for some clients, it is because gambling has been in their life for such a long time, perhaps their family members were gamblers and they joined in as youngsters and this then grows over the years into a gambling addiction as their tolerance to it has increased. 

The most important thing to remember is that addictions can be worked with and progress made regardless of how long you’ve been gambling and the situation you are in.

Further reading

The role of the subconscious in addiction

Gambling addiction therapy

The causes of addiction: from a counsellor and recovering addict

5 ways to cope with addiction in the family