Years after he defeated his bad habits, Michael is finally ready to talk about his gambling addiction and the mountain of debt he was left with.
It took a long time for Michael to admit he had a gambling problem, but it took him years to recover both emotionally and financially. Now he is ready to share his experience with others, and decided that the Gamblers Anonymous Awareness week was the right time to open up in an interview with the Irish Examiner.
A number of people bet on sports in Ireland, and while most of them do it for fun, things can easily slip out of control. It’s hard to notice when a simple habit turns into compulsive gambling, but Michael said he first realized something was wrong when he found himself placing peculiar wagers, like on the outcome of a beach volley game.
From casual betting to compulsive gambling
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It all started in his early teens, when he was going to the local greyhound track. But what used to be a fun activity turned into a dangerous habit, and soon enough Michael was addicted to Teletext, constantly checking for updates on sports events.
It was mainly racing, Moto GP and soccer he was betting on, but he often put money on sports he did not know anything about, until he ended up playing between 80 and 100 bets on a daily basis.
“The big thing for me was not the money. It was gambling away my mental health,” Michael told the reporter.
For years, Michael thought he has everything under control.Sometimes he’d win “loads of money,” he said, but more often he lost and his debts accumulated, reaching tens of thousands of euro. It wasn’t until he added up his losses that he finally realized the situation had slipped out of control.
At the end of one year he owed as much as EUR35,000. One year later, the amount had more than doubled. And after losing his job too, things just got worse.
Recovering from addiction
When he felt he had reached a crisis point, Michael visited a doctor and asked for help. He was lying to friends and family, chasing losses, facing serious problems at work, he confessed to the doctor.
“The first six months, I just stopped gambling but I wasn’t changing my ways,” he says.
It was hard to get things back under control, but attending Gamblers Anonymous(GA) meetings helped him a lot. It takes three or four meetings a week to keep him on the right track, and he mostly goes there during lunchtime.
“You have to keep going to your meetings because if you stop, it could become attractive again. I was addicted to Teletext. When I came into GA, I came home and the only button I could see on the TV remote control was the Teletext button. It was like a beacon.I got a pen knife and cut it off,” he explained.
Now that Michael is able to stay away from the bookies, he has to work on recovering from his financial difficulties. His debt is starting to shrink and he managed to bring it down to a fraction of what it used to be.
“Every month, the money goes out it is a reminder that you never want to get into that situation again,” he told the reporter.
As bookies spread, so does problem gambling
With Ireland trying to keep up with the growing UK gambling market, the number of betting shops, online sportsbooks and mobile betting apps has gone up over the past few years. The industry has been generating impressive revenues too, but some believe bookmakers are feeding on players’ weaknesses and compulsive behavior.
“There is a huge problem in society with gambling at the moment,” Michael says, adding that the number of people attending GA meetings has“doubled, if not tripled” in the past year. What’s even more worrying is that they’re getting younger and younger. “There would be lads aged 18 or 19 coming into the room,” he told reporters.
GA representatives have received requests to make presentations from a number of secondary schools. Since smartphones became so popular, the temptation of gambling is just a few clicks away.
Irish gambling laws require all licensed betting operators to adopt a responsible gambling policy, but things can still easily spin out of control.
Recognizing the symptoms
Michael says his life has now steadied, but thinks his recovery is a work in progress. “Time is a healer. I can laugh it all off now, but at the time it wasn’t very funny,” he added. While there is no harm in placing the occasional bet, gamblers should be aware of the risks they’re exposing themselves to and learn how to recognize the signs of gambling addiction.
Problem gamblers often find themselves gambling at work; losing makes them want to return to the game and keep betting to recover their losses; the same thing happens if they win – they want to play more and win more, and they often don’t stop until they spend all of their money.
So make sure to keep an eye out for these signs, and if you find yourself gambling more than you’d like to, get help as soon as possible.