Speaking out on ITV’s ‘Harry Heroes‘ and Good Morning Britain, Paul Merson has opened up publicly about his recent battle with gambling addiction. Former England and Arsenal footballer described how gambling addiction took over his life, affecting his health, work, relationships and self-esteem. In this blog, we’ll explain why every gambling addict can relate to Paul Merson’s experience. With many football fans and professional footballers affected by gambling today, hopefully, Merson’s story will inspire gambling addicts to get help.
10 Insights into Gambling Addiction from Paul Merson
“Addiction makes you withdraw from everybody – I was never going out with the lads in the end.”
Speaking on Harry’s Heroes, Paul Merson described the extreme Isolation he felt in his addiction. Addiction stopped him socialising and cut him off from good friends.
Every gambling addict knows those feelings of loneliness. Relationships suffer a lot when people get addicted. It becomes harder to connect with friends and family. In the grips of addiction, people often lose touch with everyone who cares about them.
“It’s weird how it takes you. I’m playing for England. I’ve all the money in the world – and I want to kill myself.”
Whatever your life circumstances, as a gambling addict you’re more likely to suffer from depression or attempt suicide.
According to the most extensive study of its kind from Lund University in Sweden, gambling addicts are 15 times more likely to take their own life than control groups.
“I was running off the pitch to get to the 3.45.”
The compulsion to gamble can interfere with everything – even the most exciting or fulfilling aspects of life. At the height of his gambling addiction, Paul Merson would race off the pitch at half time, to track the results of bets he’d placed.
If you’re a gambling addict, you’ll be able to understand this. In the end, gambling takes priority over everything – even the things you love such as your partner, kids, job, friends or ambitions.
“I’m struggling with life at the moment. Struggling badly. My life’s falling apart.”
On the surface, gambling addiction is about compulsively placing bets, winning and losing money or other prizes. So why not just stop gambling, if it gets out of hand?
Every gambling addict knows that the compulsion to gamble is connected to how they feel when they’re not gambling. Without treatment, cycles of addiction tend to repeat themselves and escalate. This is why people need intensive therapy to recover – it’s not just about stopping; it’s about addressing the mental distress that leads to gambling.
“You’re just constantly looking at your phone.”
Paul Merson talked about the accessibility of gambling online – including via smartphone apps. With multiple platforms offering betting accounts and promotional offers, it’s easy to get drawn into gambling via your mobile phone.
A Nottingham University study, published in 2019 in the European Addiction Research journal, found that “ubiquitous” smartphone gambling and lack of regulation presents dangers to people with addiction problems. The research showed that most players continued betting after it was no longer possible to win.
“It’s the insanity of constantly keeping on doing it. After the bet goes on, you’re like, ‘what did I do that for?’ It’s a weird feeling.”
Every gambling addict experiences cravings to gamble beyond their control. Often the remorse for placing bets kicks in immediately afterwards – and yet, it’s still impossible to resist urges to gamble more.
“And then the self-worth comes in, and you hate yourself.”
Paul Merson spoke about how gambling addiction destroyed his self-esteem. Repeating destructive patterns, yet desperate to stop gambling, Merson turned his anger on himself.
In treatment, gambling addicts learn about the strong emotions that drive their compulsions to bet. Anger and fear are the two most common emotions, which gambling addicts need to come to terms with to sustain addiction recovery.
There is a wide range of therapies, which transform people’s understanding and reactions to anger and fear. These therapeutic interventions help to reduce or stop the cravings to gamble.
“I have an allergy to alcohol – if I have a drink, I can’t tell you when I’m going to stop – it’s the same with gambling.”
Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Paul Merson said that his gambling addiction wasn’t anything to do with external circumstances – such as having too much time on his hands since retiring from professional football. For him, addiction is innate – it’s a way he reacts to addictive substances and activities, which his contemporaries like David Beckham do not.
All gambling addicts have experiences of not being able to stop when they want to stop. Betting more than you intended, chasing losses, using credit or stealing to fund bets – these are all examples of how gambling addicts lose control.
For most gambling addicts, abstinence-based recovery offers the best long term outcomes. This is where people accept that they can no longer gamble, seeking out specialist treatment and ongoing support to quit for good.
“Addiction is a strong thing – it can soon tell you in your head, “you know what, I’m all right now? […] Maybe I can have that one little bet.”
Every gambling addict who has ever tried to stop betting can relate to this statement. Paul Merson described how after some time away from gambling, he could forget the despair that gambling addiction causes him.
Most addicts who relapse go through a similar mental process, where they minimise the dangers and convince themselves it’s safe to bet this time.
“I have to go to meetings – it’s the only way.”
For Paul Merson, ongoing support for his gambling addiction is vital to recovery. It is usually easier to maintain recovery if you have a good support network, with whom you can discuss problems and work towards solutions.
If you’re affected by gambling addiction, please phone, message or speak on live chat to the UKAT Admissions team. We’re here to help, 24/7, with enquires about gambling addiction treatment.