How do you conquer an online gambling addiction? The first step is admitting to yourself you have a problem. The second is to not blame yourself. The third, and hardest, is admitting this problem to others.
The UK is, belatedly, waking up to the scale of its online gambling epidemic. Each year in the UK hundreds of people with addiction and problem gamblers take their own lives, driven desperately to this tragic step by a combination of guilt, shame and crippling financial consequences.
There are an estimated 1.4 million problem gamblers in the UK. Yet figures show that just a tiny fraction seek professional help. The vast majority of people with gambling addiction live secret lives, their problems hidden from family and friends until the pressure reaches intolerable levels. What is behind this secrecy? In many cases, including my own, it is shame.
Online gambling invariably takes place when you are alone and unhappy, seeking refuge from the stresses of the real world. Online gambling – usually presented by operators as harmless online ‘gaming’, fills a void and provides escapism. Searching for this escape, in itself, triggers a feeling of weakness, a sense that you lack the mental fortitude to deal with life’s challenges.
Yet to admit to addiction makes you feel weaker still, and the hole deepens. For many people with addiction, gambling feels somehow dirty, seedy. Perhaps this is down to a lack of exposure and public understanding compared to the dangers of drinking, smoking and drug addiction, all of which are embedded in the public consciousness thanks to concerted advertising in recent decades.
Alcohol is banned on the London Underground, we cannot smoke in pubs, and each time a celebrity opens up about their drug addiction it lessens the stigma. Gambling, however, remains the great taboo. In truth, of course, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Gambling addiction develops from a perfect storm of circumstances. Factors including depression, isolation and trauma all play a part in addiction, while young men are shown to be far more likely than the rest of the population to become problem gamblers.
Those who sign up with online casinos are targeted and exploited by a multi-billion-pound industry that holds all the cards. These casino operators collect a vast array of data on customers and put it to precise use, factoring in where you live, your age and occupation to tailor offers and bonuses.
Addiction itself is a simple chemical reaction within the brain, with frequent wins triggering releases of dopamine which leave the player wanting more. Online gambling is intoxicating and hypnotising – far more so than a visit to a real casino would be, and far harder to escape. A gambling addict can be young or old, male or female and of any ethnicity and background.
We all have one thing in common – we are individuals who at a vulnerable time in our lives fell prey to a ruthless industry. Accepting that fact is the biggest and most important challenge in beating gambling addiction.