Interview with Gambling Addiction Counsellor

In this post I interview a counsellor on the subject of gambling addiction. See my previous post on Irish Soup Kitchens here

I like to gamble. Only recently have I started buying Lotto tickets, a form of gambling. This surprised me. I always envisioned gambling as the high risk stakes of poker and blackjack in Vegas.

Yet gambling is defined as ”playing games of chance for money”. Gambling carries with it a sense of excitement, and anticipation of the unknown. It could be you, though the odds are slim in case of the Lotto.  It’s something we hold onto. But why?

And why is it so addictive? Ludomania, or problem gambling is ”an urge to gamble continuously despite harmful negative consequences or a desire to stop.” Lotto, scratchcards, bookies, poker, and even online….. it’s everywhere. Almost 44% of Irish adults play the National Lottery regularly. (Gamble Aware)

In numerous studies, men have to been found to gamble more often, with higher amounts and more recklessly than women, and thus at a higher risk of a gambling problem.

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Barry Grant, of Waterford Addiction Counselling, is a fully accredited counsellor with a background in addiction studies. He agreed to speak to me regarding the motivations behind gambling, the treatment available, and it’s prevalence in Ireland.

Why do people gamble, Barry?

It’s a mix of things. You see, there’s two very distinct groups among people who gamble regularly.  Most people would gamble a little bit, so they buy a lottery ticket or scratchcard here and there, but it’s not a big part of their lives.

As to the groups, theres the thrill seekers who get an adrenaline rush out of gambling and then there’s people who play in machines in arcades, or say online games, who go into the zone.  It’s a very different sort of buzz from adrenaline. They just want to switch off for an hour or two, escapism.

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Free money of course is the main reason people find themselves gambling. Lotto, which started off with the tickets and scratchcards, is now going into the online sphere. They’re changing their approach in response to seeing how successful online gambling is in Ireland.  We’re going to see more and more of it .There’s very little regulation going on from the regulator.

What effects of gambling have you seen in the individuals that you treat? 

Oh man….depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, relationship problems, criminal activity, anger management issues, financial losses obviously, homelessness. family breakdown. People often think the most you lose is money, but it’s so much more than a bit of cash.

How do you go about treating clients, what approach would you use?

Normally starting off , it’s about putting obstacles in the way. Because gambling is such a secretive addiction, people can have serious problems and those closest to them might not know. The first is getting the person to at least admit they have a problem, and then asking a trusted friend or loved one to take over their finances for about three months. They will give you money as you need it and ask for receipts, monitoring your spending.

This comes with a health warning –  it can lead to friction in relationships and can be a difficult dynamic. But for the majority, it can be beneficial. If you don’t have money, you can’t gamble!

Some other things we try would be self exclusion – deleting your online account,  closing your bookies account. Again, putting obstacles in the way.

So, it’s a cold turkey approach?

Cold turkey would be the best way. The goal for anyone coming in the door is to reduce to moderate, manageable levels. Now, if someone has a serious gambling problem, that may not ever be a reality for them. But for another person, the option to reduce is realistic, they may not be at the extreme end of the scale. But even for that person I would recommend ”sobriety sampling”. This is where you try out abstaining for a month and see what that feels like. If you can manage that, then you can look at trying gambling on a smaller scale.

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What a lot of people find in the sampling process is they get a bit of insight into how bad the situation was in the first place, and they choose not to go back.

I would never push abstaining on anyone, but I do encourage them to see how it feels. If you can’t abstain for a week or a months, then there’s a problem, and you need to look at that.

I suppose like any addiction, they have to want it for themselves, there’s only so much you can do….

Absolutely, you can’t make anyone change. The person does the work, the counsellor just supervises that work and supports. They might be going to one or two meetings or sessions, but every minute, hour and day of the week, they have to manage their urges, cravings, thoughts whilst finding other activities that can fill their time.  Like working on their relationships,  not isolating themselves as they would’ve been when gambling.

And it’s about getting to the root cause of their addiction, right? Why they’re doing what they’re doing?

Absolutely . I always do something with people called an ”emotional needs audit”. So you’re looking at emotional aspects of their lives, seeing if their emotional needs are being met in certain areas. Usually with any sort of self destructive behavior, it’s a result of not getting important needs met. So, you’re gonna meet those needs in another way, even if from the outside it looks totally irrational, it’s meeting a need at some level.

It’s not about just taking away the gambling or the drink, if you don’t replace it with something, a healthier option, the person will relapse.

How big of a problem do you think gambling is in Ireland, Barry?

Well,  the Irish Institute for Public Health made an estimate in 2010 that there were between 28 – 40, 000 problem gamblers in Ireland. In a prevalence study from the UK last year, between June 2015 and June 2016, there was a 75 percent increase in problem gambling figures.

Now, we don’t have a clue here, a valid, solid piece of research to tell us what the figures are. But if I look at my own practice, I’m seeing more and more people coming in, especially since mobile gambling has come in.

If you look at the Rutland Centre in 2013, three percent of their presentations were for gambling addiction. In 2016 it was nine and a half percent. It seems the people coming in are getting younger and younger.

If you’re able to walk around with a mobile bookies or casino in your pocket 24/7, if you’ve had a loss that day,  the opportunity to keep chasing those losses is there. Whereas ten years ago, once the bookies closed that was it. You had to go home, lick your wounds, and think about what your next step was!

With online gambling , I would imagine that figure of 28 – 40,000 from seven years ago would be much higher now.

It’s crazy to think the risks people take, and the money they throw away, myself included, based on a game of chance….

One of the most common phenomena found in gambling addicts is that at a young age, they had a big win, a 20/1 long shot that turned their fiver into a hundred euro. That’s a magical experience for a young person, picking the right horse. And they keep chasing that big win, and forget all the losses they’ve had. You’re tapping into something deep into the human psyche. The desire to predict the future. Which is very heavily connected to our survival instinct.

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So you can be logical about it and say how much money you’ve lost, but that really doesn’t work for people. Even though your odds of winning the Lotto are one in about 14 million, plus they keep adding numbers.

In me doing the Lotto, my rationale is that if you aren’t in, you can’t win. A chance is a chance. It could be anyone.

Absolutely. And look, if it’s a thing that you’re putting a fiver or whatever it is you can afford, and its not causing you to struggle with rent and bills and feeding yourself, then it may not be a problem. If it’s not taking over your thoughts or affecting your relationships.

Millions of people do the Lotto precisely for that reason – if you’re not in, you can’t win. Someone’s got to win it each time, and that keeps the dream alive.

It’s an injection of hope in your life, meeting a need. If you’re having a bad day, you do a quick pick and go to bed that night thinking it could all change tomorrow.

Helpful links:

http://www.gambleaware.ie/

http://www.gamblersanonymous.ie/

http://www.rutlandcentre.ie/ 

http://waterfordaddictioncounselling.com/

Call Barry at 0876714259

Barry Grant on Twitter – https://twitter.com/addictioncouns1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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