Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, has named gambling addiction as a “new threat” facing the National Health Service. There are an estimated 430,000 people in the UK who have a gambling problem. According to Stevens, two-thirds of gamblers get worse without help. He has pointed to an “increasing link between problem gambling and stress, depression and other mental health problems”.
Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, spokesman for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Generally addiction services in this country have been stripped to the bare bones. We urgently need to find ways for people with gambling and substance use disorders to get access to high-quality treatment.”
To highlight the scale of this issue, UKAT have published an infographic with key facts and figures about gambling addiction, as well as symptoms and treatment techniques.
Perhaps most alarming are the high levels of children and young people who are gambling. There are 60,000 problem gamblers in the UK between the ages of 11 and 15. Three million 13 to 17 year olds have created falsified online betting accounts.
Of great concern too is the connection between gambling addiction, mental ill health and suicide attempts. 60% of gamblers suffer with depression and 13% have attempted suicide.
According to a BBC news report, men are seven and a half times more likely than women to develop an addiction to gambling.
One explanation for this is that men demonstrate greater risk-taking behaviour than women in research studies. There is also the link between televised football and gambling – in October 2017, the Victoria Derbyshire programme found that 95% of advert breaks during live football matches contain at least one gambling advertisement. British men are estimated to watch twice the amount of sport on TV over their lifetime as women, increasing their exposure to gambling promotions.
Simon Stevens is now calling on Premier League football clubs to ensure sponsor betting companies fund help for gambling addicts.
Gambling doesn’t just affect football fans. Matt Tootle, Notts County defender, has described gambling as “rife” in football.
In this tweet on 5th September 2018, Matt described how compulsive gambling has affected his life since he was 16 years old. “It has brought to me some of my worst memories. Many times I have tried to quit and been unsuccessful – and almost lost loved ones closest to me who tried to help.”
Like any other addiction, when a gambling habit increases to addictive levels, the person affected has lost the power of choice. The compulsion to gamble escalates beyond their ability to control their thoughts and associated behaviours. Some people start to bet more often and chase losses. Some place higher stakes, selling possessions or borrowing money to fund further gambling. Others lie to people close to them, hiding the extent of their gambling including their losses or debts.
Additionally, many problem gamblers are also affected by other addictions – including to alcohol and drugs. This can add further complexity and risk to the addictive behaviours. For example, people may gamble when under the influence of drugs or alcohol, taking much greater risks than when they are sober. They may also be gambling in an attempt to fund their substance addiction. Some people may turn to drink or drugs when they lose bets, attempting to escape the emotions they feel.
There is also the connection between problem gambling and mental ill health, as highlighted by Simon Stevens and the UKAT infographic.
There are very effective treatment options for people who suffer with gambling addiction – including those who also have an addiction to alcohol, drugs or other processes. Residential treatment programmes, outpatient counselling or self-help groups and in some cases, medication, can all contribute to the recovery process for gambling addicts.
At UKAT, we believe that abstinence from gambling gives people the best chance of achieving and maintaining their recovery. For the worst affected, including those with co-existing substance addictions and/or mental health diagnoses, residential addiction treatment provides intensive support in the first days and weeks of abstinence from gambling. Treatment may also include detoxification from alcohol and/or drugs, in cases where gamblers are also physically addicted to substances. Group and 1-2-1 therapy identifies the underlying reasons for gambling, as well as developing new tools and strategies for managing compulsions and emotions connected to the addiction.