An awareness week takes place from November 24th – 28th to highlight the services and supports available to gamblers and those impacted by gambling.
In advance of the awareness week, two local men who have both suffered from severe gambling addictions shared their stories.
For James*, the world of gambling became familiar from an early age.
“When I was in my early teens I was given money going back to school at lunch time, but I would go into the bookies office with my jacket zipped up and there were never any questions asked,” he explained.
When he began to earn his own money, his gambling addiction increased.
“I was gambling all the money I had. There was nothing I wouldn’t bet on. I’d gamble on any type of sporting event,” he said.
“I was not winning any substantial amounts of money in my mind. If I won say €1,000 that could be gone an hour later. It was almost like Monopoly money. I was never taking the money and putting it aside,” he explained.
James then became immersed in the world of online gambling, often betting from 11am to 7pm each day from the comfort of his home.
“That was the time when nobody was bothering me. I had to hide it in the evening, but at that time during the day I wasn’t answerable to anybody,” he explained.
He believes online betting has exacerbated the problem of gambling addiction.
“You could be sitting there with just your mobile phone and your bank card. It’s scary how open and available it is,” he said.
James admitted that his gambling was carried out to mask other issues he had.
“I used gambling to suppress emotions. For years I was gambling and I didn’t know it was an addiction. I didn’t see it like alcoholism or drug addiction,” he explained.
When his addiction eventually resulted in a serious incident, James went to a treatment centre and was assessed.
“For me there was a relief in getting caught. I had reached the end of my tether but fortunately I wasn’t in a whole lot of debt and I didn’t have mortgage,” he said.
Aged 36, James has now returned to education and has turned his life around with the help of Gamblers Anonymous.
“The more meetings I go to, the stronger my recovery becomes. For as long as I want to stay well, I will keep attending meetings,” he said.
“When I went looking for help, I was surprised by amount of help out there. At any meeting you go to anywhere in the country, there are all ages and all types of people. We follow a 12 step programme and the first step is the most important – admitting you have a problem.”
But is it difficult to escape gambling considering the prevalence of adverts on TV and the internet?
“I’m fine-tuned as a gambler that when I see an ad it gets my attention straight away. They are becoming more and more prevalent on TV and are really in your face,” said James.
“You have to be selfish. You have to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself away from it. At times it may seem you’re being anti-social or rude, but at the end of the day, the people that care about you will understand.”
John* is an older man who has also faced a gambling addiction.
“I was, as I call it, ‘away with the fairies’, for 28 years. Gambling is as addictive as drink or drugs and it’s known as the ‘secret addiction’,” he explained.
“Everybody has good times and bad times. But most people don’t go and make it worse by taking their week’s salary and putting it on a three legged horse at Wetherby in the certainty that it’s going to double your money. A gambler does.”
John suffered from what he described as “mental torture” as a result of his gambling which included fear and paranoia over unpaid debts.
“I was fearful and paranoid every time I heard the front gate open at home. Something such as the postman pulling up should be a simple occurrence. But I was dreading what he might have. I was also terrified of the telephone ringing in my own home.”
He continued: “I looked for a way to hide away. It’s like ostrich syndrome – close your eyes and hope things will go away.”
John has been attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings for 21 years.
“There are no bosses. Everybody is a recovering gambler. Nobody judges you. Everybody who listens has been there and done that. Why do I keep going? I feel I’m now giving something back,” he said.
Local meetings are held above the St Vincent de Paul shop on Henrietta Street on Fridays at 8pm; at Waterford Area Partnership, Tramore Road on Wednesdays at 8pm and Saturdays at 11am.
GamAnon helps family members of gamblers and a local group holds meetings on Thursday nights in St Brigid’s Centre, Lower Yellow Road at 8pm.
“There are many people out there who are suffering. My heart goes out to the families even more so than the gambler. But there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not the light of an oncoming train, it’s a light of hope.”
An awareness week is being held next week to highlight the help which is available in battling gambling addictions.
An Open Public Meeting will take place at St Joseph & Benildus on Thursday November 27th at 8pm.
For more information on Gamblers Anonymous visit www.gamblersanonymous.ie or call 086-2683538. For more information on Gam Anon call 086-3270640. *Names of men interviewed were changed.