Earlier this week, it was revealed that a 23-year old accountant who plunged to his death from a London skyscraper last summer “died of shame” from his online gambling addiction.
Joshua Jones, a Surrey University graduate, saw no way out after the debts and loans he had taken out to feed his habit rose uncontrollably, and took his own life in July 2015. His father, speaking at an inquest at Southwark Coroner’s Court, revealed how his son had lived a “double life” and how despite having a “good job, he was addicted to gambling.”
“He took his life because of gambling,” Mr Jones added. “We miss him terribly.”
Unlike substance abuse, there are no immediate physical effects of problem gambling. However, as the Joshua Jones suicide proves, the repercussions can be just as grave.
“For gambling addicts – around 0.1 per cent of the population – gambling completely takes over their lives and compromises their relationships, jobs or education, and social activities,” says Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction at Nottingham Trent University. “They experience the same things other addicts experience – including withdrawal symptoms, relapse, mood modification, cravings and loss of control.
“Brain imaging studies have shown that individuals with gambling addictions have diminished ventral striatial activation,” Griffiths adds, “the part of the brain involved in both emotional and motivation aspects of behaviour.
“Thus, gambling becomes the most important thing in an addict’s life and becomes an activity that they will do to the neglect of everything else. They will become totally preoccupied with gambling and, even when they are not gambling, they are always thinking about the next time they will be.”
Liz Karter, an addiction therapist, gambling addiction expert and author of Problem Gambling has seen many individual’s lives ruined by online gambling. She shares her tips on how to combat the problem.
“Ever since online gambling began to get more and more prevalent,” says Karter, “gambling addiction has leaped the social divide. Now, over 50 per cent of my clients, both male and female, are from a middle-class, professional background.
“Online gambling has given this type of higher earner private access to a product and service that they may not have previously been comfortable trying in public or person. You no longer have to leave your home to gamble – you can do it in the office, on the commute home or anywhere you have an internet connection. And that is what makes it dangerous.”
1. Admit you have a problem
“Like any addiction, the first step on the road to recovery is accepting that you have a problem,” says Karter. “You need to face up to the fact that your gambling habit has got out of control and, by realising that you need to return to some sense of normality, you will be better prepared to put in the work and effort to get there.
“Emotional confusion is very common at this point – with one side of your personality acting rationally and acknowledging that gambling is destroying your life whilst the other is craving the practice with an increased intensity.
“The next step is to rally the right support around you that will help reinforce and strengthen the rational part of you and ease your cravings.”
2. Confide in a trusted individual
“Next, you should confide in a supportive friend or family member,” advises the addiction therapist. “This tends to be one of the first steps before seeking professional support, as they will likely encourage you to capitalise on your rationality. However, the act of telling a friend or family member is often the most worrying part of the entire process.
“Unlike other addictions, such as with drugs or alcohol, there are no immediate physical signs that an individual may be suffering. Because of this, it is an addiction that is easily hidden and your confidant may have not picked up on your problem. Instead, the indications will have been subtler – you may have started withdrawing from social interactions, been exhibiting mood swings or been unenthused by previously enjoyable activities.
“The general behaviour of a gambling addict is such that partners frequently believe them to be having an affair,” reveals Karter.
“But both you and your confidant will feel better once the problem is out in the open,” she adds. “It is likely that they suspected something was wrong due to your changing behaviour, and this way they will be relieved that you have finally revealed what it is – despite still being worried for you.”
3. Block your access to gambling
“The third step is to block your access to the type of gambling you are addicted to. Then, to all and any forms of gambling.
“This will put an end to your habit and – with the help of your confidant – you will be more likely to stay away from the gambling websites and apps than had you attempted to quit by yourself. This way, you will be letting someone down if you relapse into your gambling ways.
“This step will allow you to realise that gambling is not the escape you believed it to be,” says the addiction expert. “People use online gambling as an escape – something to distract them from the stresses and pressure of juggling what they feel are overwhelming work and home commitments. However, eventually, you will realise that it is not a solution, and that the inevitable losses begin a cycle of problems, and the issues from which you were initially trying to run are intensified.”
4. Relinquish control of your finances
“Another common problem that only serves to exacerbate the secrecy of the habit is that the gambler is afraid that their addiction will be misunderstood and viewed as greed,” Karter reveals. “Many also simply can’t comprehend the actual odds of them winning, and this drives the problem deeper underground.
“Therefore, the next step is to overcome this shame and embarrassment, realise that your confidant will not think that it is greed, and ask them if they will help you manage your finances for a short period of time – four weeks is a good start.
“By giving someone else control of your money,” Karter continues, “be this a bank account or credit cards, you will have the burden lifted from your shoulders momentarily, and this will make it easier to move on. During this time, it is advisable to seek debt management – as unmanageable debt simply drives the addictive cycle of loss chasing. Loss chasing, when you keep gambling to win back money you’ve already lost, is one of the hardest habits to break.”
5. Stay busy to overcome withdrawal
“Taking away your access to gambling will not take away your cravings to gamble,” warns the addiction therapist. “So – as is the case with beating any addiction – you will experience a withdrawal period. This tends to feel the worst for the first week or so after quitting gambling, so it is imperative to stay busy during this time – preferably in the company of others to distract yourself.
“It is of paramount importance that you don’t think about how one more gamble could give you the big win that would sort out all of your problems – this is a fantasy. When you are addicted to gambling you are in a no win situation.
“But, if this withdrawal becomes unbearable and you begin to feel stressed, depressed or anxious, talk to your GP.”
6. Look to others who have successfully stopped
“After four weeks free from gambling, you should begin to feel better,” Karter forecasts. “The cravings should have lessened and, if you sought out a friend to help you with your debt, your finances should also be on the path to recovery. This month can also be made a lot easier if professional help is sought.
“However, this time can also be uncertain – it hasn’t been that long since you gave up the force that was driving your life. As a result, you should focus on how everyone who has successfully given up online gambling and is now leading a rewarding and wholesome life once felt as you do now. Simply keep telling yourself that you are not the first person to be going through this process, and that it is entirely possible for you – like others have before – to free yourself of addictive online gambling.”