My name is Sam, and I’m a compulsive gambler. I began gambling when I was underage – I snuck into a bookmaker when I was just 16 and put a football accumulator on. Little did I know that this would be the beginning of something that would mean I almost took my own life.
My home life was fine – I had two loving parents, no trauma, and I was relatively well behaved at school. There was no apparent psychological reason for me to develop issues with gambling, but I’ve learnt that sometimes there just isn’t.
My addiction completely changed me – my personality and my lifestyle. I take responsibility for my actions, but gambling still has a menacing hold on me that is hard to articulate, and is still hard to live with. My previous life revolved around gambling – I planned my day around it, and would sacrifice anything to continue.
The first thing I did on the morning of my 18th birthday was set up an online gambling account. I would wake up at 4am on my payday to gamble for a few hours before I had to go to work. It was a miracle if my wages lasted a week. I found myself in a financial mess, borrowing from friends, banks, payday loan companies – the bailiff letters started to pile up, but somehow, I always managed to find more money to keep going.
I was adamant that I had a ‘system’, and even when I won, I would keep gambling, convinced I could win more. That rarely happened, even though I was betting on anything and everything I could.
Gambling problems don’t have physical symptoms like problems with drugs or alcohol, but it can have such a huge impact on finances and on mental health. The fact that you can disguise these for so long means that when a crisis hits, it hits hard.
I hit ‘rock bottom’ in December 2016, and I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I made a plan to end it all, but I’m glad I didn’t go through with it. From that point things started to change, and my life has improved tenfold. But even after seeking help, I have to say that gambling doesn’t completely leave you. There isn’t a wonder cure, just a willingness to overcome what had become such a toxic lifestyle.
I went to my first Gambler’s Anonymous meeting in January 2017, and even though I didn’t know what to expect, hand on heart I can say that being able to talk to others who understood what I was going through saved my life. I admitted I had a problem, I put blocks in place to make as difficult as possible to bet, and I also attended treatment sessions with GamCare which I found really beneficial.
Even having learned so much, I still found myself in a bookmaker with a wad of cash this February. To take away something that was such a huge part of my life for so long it a massive change, and it’s not easy to walk away. Although I spoke to someone as soon as I left the shop, and there were no financial repercussions this time, my head was still a mess – possibly worse than before, and I spent the next week alone. Generally, I love being on my own, but not interacting with people leads to bottling everything up, and that starts to lead to more gambling – it’s important to keep connecting to the people around you.
People have asked me, why can’t you just stop? I know there are lots of people having a flutter who don’t gamble beyond their means, but that was something I could never do. I felt ashamed and embarrassed, but by opening up I hope that even just one person in a similar situation will read this and make a change for the better. The biggest step is admitting the problem to yourself and to someone else, but it’s worth it when it means you can move forward, and people do want to help.
I’m not completely back at the start, I have learned a lot and addressed a lot of demons, and I know recovery is a process. I have incredible support from my loved ones, and I’m looking forward to the future. There is a strong possibility I may gamble again one day, but as long as I don’t gamble today the rewards are there for the taking.
I really would like gambling companies to really consider how they can make changes to properly safeguard the vulnerable – the stake reduction on FOBTs was a good step, but I think that there is much more to do. I don’t think we would every be able to eradicate the problem, but we can do more to reduce the harm.
Find out more about how GamCare are working to improve player protection with their Safer Gambling Standard.