At Smarmore Castle we offer gambling addiction treatment to a large number of problem gamblers each year, many of whom have a concurrent addiction to alcohol or drugs.
Many of us have entered the national lottery or bought a scratch card from our local store in the hope of being one of the very few people who win big, getting a chance to change our lives with mere pounds.
The national lottery is the most popular gambling activity with 44% of adults taking part. However, the fastest growing area of gambling is online slot machines and casino games, which carry significantly higher rates of gambling addiction.
A GambleAware study, part of a push by the charity to encourage people to seek treatment for gambling addiction, found that 1.4 million people are being harmed by their gambling, while a further 1.5 million are at risk. Despite the high rates found by the survey, only 0.63% of people with a gambling addiction receive treatment from the National Gambling Treatment Service (NGTS).
All forms of gambling can become addictive, regardless of whether you bet on sports, play online poker, engage in spread betting or go to casinos.
Gambling Addiction in Ireland
Gambling addiction in Ireland is a significant problem and public health concern. According to the Irish Times, Ireland is ranked 14th in the world in terms of annual gambling losses and Irish gamblers lost c.€1.36 billion in 2020.
While research in Ireland on gambling to date has been limited, there are some statistics related to gambling addictions in Ireland that help illustrate the enormity of the issue:
- Roughly 7% of gamblers are at risk of developing a gambling problem
- Gambling is moving online making it harder to track the behavioural activity of problem gamblers. In 2008, there were 1,365 betting shops in Ireland, which reduced to 948 in 2015. Paddy Power says that online gambling is responsible for 77% of its profits
- According to the Department of Health, Ireland has in the region of 30,000 people with gambling problems (aged 15 and over)
- According to the Institute of Public Health in Ireland, gambling addiction affects young people at 2-3 times the rate of adults
- Over €5bn each year is gambled in Ireland which is €10,000 every minute
- 12% of Irish adults bet with a bookmaker on a weekly basis and 2% bet regularly online
Recreational Gambling vs Problem Gambling
The media and film industries glamourise recreational gambling with characters such as James Bond depicting casual gambling as luxurious, something that is aspirational rather than potentially problematic.
Problem gambling starts recreationally and all forms of gambling can become an addiction, whether you bet on sports, play online poker, engage in spread betting, or visit casinos. Compulsive gambling is a behavioural addiction that leads to financial problems, work difficulties, home life disruptions, and sometimes suicide.
There are several differences between recreational gamblers and problem gamblers. Those who play for fun understand that gambling is a game and that they are unlikely to win. Despite this, they play for entertainment.
Characteristics of recreational gamblers include:
- Setting a budget that they stay within
- Hoping to win but know that they will probably lose
- Gambling as a form of entertainment with friends
- Gambling for a fixed amount of time
- Understanding that it is a game
Unlike recreational gamblers, problem gamblers:
- Believe that they can control the outcomes of the game by influencing the odds
- May have strategies they believe will help them to succeed. For example, if a number has not come up for a while, they may believe that it is sure to come up soon despite the probability being the same each time
- Bet more than they can afford
- Develop an obsession with gambling which can quickly become the top priority in their life
- May be in conflict with their loved ones over finances – lying, secrecy and denial are common sources of tension
- Are likely to feel shame about their behaviour as well as experience depression, guilt, and isolation
What Are the Consequences of Problem Gambling?
Until someone’s gambling becomes a problem financially, they may not address the issue. It’s also not uncommon for the family network to be unaware of their loved one’s gambling addiction until they find themselves experiencing serious financial consequences such as a court summons and repossession of property.
Financial problems can compound quickly due to problem gambling with bills not getting paid and credit cards being maxed out. Some turn to payday loans as a solution but high-interest rates can worsen someone’s financial position. It is not uncommon for those addicted to gambling to borrow or even steal from friends and family, businesses or employers. Someone who is living with the consequences of an addiction to gambling may feel that the only solution to financial problems is to continue gambling, and so the cycle continues.
Gambling-related difficulties can profoundly affect mental wellbeing. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, problem gamblers are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, experience stress-related disorders, become anxious, have poor sleep and appetite, develop a substance misuse problem, and suffer from depression.
Signs and Symptoms of a Gambling Addiction
Do you recognise any of the following symptoms of compulsive gambling in yourself? The main characteristics of problem gamblers include:
- Experiencing financial difficulties
- Being willing to invest an unlimited supply of time and money in their gambling activities
- Making up for losses by betting more
- Taking out loans to fund their gambling
- Becoming obsessed with gambling
- Being certain that they must be about to win
- Borrowing money from family and friends to fund their gambling
- Selling their belongings to raise money
- Lying to family and friends about their gambling behaviour
- Suffering from depression, mood disorders, and loneliness
- Denying to themselves and others the extent of their problem
If you think that you may be a problem gambler, it might also be worth asking yourself these questions which cover the main signs and symptoms of gambling addiction (taken from The American Psychiatric Association’s Manual for Diagnostic and Statistics about Mental Disorders):
- Do you find that you are preoccupied with gambling (for example, constantly thinking about past gambling experiences, planning the next gambling opportunity, or ruminating on ways to get money with which to gamble)?
- Do you need to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement or high?
- Have you already made repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop gambling?
- Do you feel restless or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop gambling?
- Do you gamble to escape from problems or to relieve unpleasant moods (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, or depression)?
- After losing money gambling, do you often return to try and ‘break even’ and recoup your losses (‘chase your losses’)?
- Have you lied to family members, therapists, or others to conceal the extent of your involvement in gambling?
- Have you committed illegal acts such as forgery, fraud, theft, or embezzlement to finance gambling?
- Have you jeopardised or lost any significant relationships, jobs, or educational opportunities because of gambling?
- Have you had to manipulate others to provide you with money to relieve desperate financial situations caused by gambling?
How Is a Gambling Addiction Diagnosed?
Treatment for gambling addiction at Smarmore Castle always starts with a thorough assessment carried about by our clinical team. They will listen to your story and ask you questions to help them form a complete picture of your mental and physical well-being, and if you may have any co-occurring disorders. This is when a gambling addiction may be diagnosed.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a diagnosis of gambling disorder requires at least four of the following during the past year:
- A need to gamble with increasing amounts to achieve the desired excitement
- Restless or irritable when trying to cut down or stop gambling
- Repeated unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back on or stop gambling
- Frequent thoughts about gambling (such as reliving past gambling or planning future gambling)
- Often gambling when feeling distressed
- After losing money gambling, often returning to get even (this is referred to as “chasing” one’s losses)
- Lying to hide gambling activity
- Risking or losing a close relationship, a job, or a school or job opportunity because of gambling
- Relying on others to help with money problems caused by gambling
Treatment Options for Gambling Addiction
In Ireland, help for problem gambling can be hard to find. Voluntary organisations such as Extern Problem Gambling Ireland provide support to problem gamblers and workshops to help and educate people about the problem.
The Self-Help Fellowship of Gamblers Anonymous provides country-wide support groups with good results for their Twelve Step programme, which has helped many.
Residential Treatment for Gambling Addiction is available, but this is mainly in the private sector. Problem Gambling is often associated with other addictions such as Alcoholism or Drug Addiction, and they can be treated at the same time.
Gambling Addiction Treatment at Smarmore Castle Rehab Centre
At Smarmore Castle, a 12-step approach involving individual and group therapy form the basis of our treatment for gambling addiction. We assess all compulsive gamblers carefully to establish the exact nature of their mental and emotional states. Our medical, nursing, psychiatric and therapeutic staff work cohesively to produce a treatment plan to cater for each person’s specific needs.
The special nature of gambling addiction lends itself well to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) which helps a person to look at the consequences of their behaviour realistically and plan the practical steps they need to take for their recovery such as self-exclusion from casinos, cancelling credit cards, and handing control of finances to a third party.
During our therapy programme for gambling addiction, patients are helped to choose and achieve a set of SMART goals. This allows them to chart their progress through small but important steps. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. These could be to:
- stop gambling, alcohol, and drug use and consider underlying issues
- work on financial issues with a debt counsellor
- learn strategies (such as impulse control and saying ‘no’), to prevent relapse
- maintain a healthy lifestyle with a good diet, exercise, and creative therapies
- repair damaged relationships with family, friends, and colleagues
Problem gambling is often found in people with other addictions such as alcohol or drug abuse. Additionally, the swift and often dire consequences of gambling addiction (loss of home and livelihood in a very short space of time) often result in extreme emotional disturbances which present as mental health issues such as severe depression or suicidal ideation. During an assessment, any co-occurring disorders will be identified and treated as part of a personalised care plan.
Problem gambling behaviour is highly addictive and there is always a risk of relapse. At Smarmore Castle, we place great importance on continuing care after discharge from the residential programme. This can take the form of regular aftercare meetings in person or via Zoom. We also strongly recommend that all patients regularly attend the local meetings of Gamblers Anonymous.
If you, a friend or a loved one suffers from a gambling problem, please contact us to discuss treatment for gambling addiction. We are available to answer queries 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and can arrange a quick admission onto our gambling addiction rehab programme.
Call now: 041 214 5111.
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Last updated & clinically assessed 20 July, 2022