Nearly half of those gambling at harmful levels* have spent money set aside for Christmas presents on gambling, according to new research from YouGov.
Kieren Smith, who started gambling at just eight years old, will be celebrating half a decade bet-free on the 27th December, but says it is still one of the hardest times of year for him, as he works throughout Christmas to help pay off the debts accumulated from past gambling.
A recent YouGov survey, commissioned by us, sheds light on the unique challenges facing those struggling with gambling over Christmas:
- Half (50%) of those gambling in the last 12 months who are doing so at harmful levels say they are more likely to feel anxious or depressed in the run-up to Christmas.
- More than two in five (41%) of those surveyed who are gambling at harmful levels admit that gambling can distract them from spending time with family/friends over Christmas.
- More than two in five (42%) of those gambling at harmful levels have previously used presents they’ve received for Christmas to gamble.
Several factors contribute to the heightened vulnerability of individuals affected by gambling harm during the Christmas season:
With paydays often falling earlier in December, families may face an extended period without income during the financially challenging month of January. One person in recovery who has used GamCare’s services describes how this is “very tough” and another explains how the early payday “increases the incentive to gamble.”
The desire for quick financial gains, especially during a season associated with gift-giving, can drive individuals towards risky gambling behaviours. As someone we have supported explains: “Christmas to me was a difficult time. I sold a lot of my Christmas presents, obviously to gamble with them. So, in recovery, it’s a time of year I feel really, really guilty. I remember every single thing I sold.”
The societal pressure to present a ‘Happy Family’ front during Christmas can exacerbate stress and anxiety for those dealing with gambling issues. An individual in recovery explains how, over Christmas, they were “Never really present. I was in the room, drinking champagne with family, but mentally I was somewhere else. Inside, I was breaking.”
On top of this pressure, the abundance of opportunities to place bets, particularly on Boxing Day, can act as triggers for those struggling with gambling urges.
Stories of hope shared by those we have previously helped:
“I now look forward to Christmas. It’s the best time. Even this year in recovery, my family have approached me and said, ‘Don’t spend too much on presents. Just you being there is more than enough’.”
“Those people in the room at Christmas know you and what you’ve been through, but they still want to spend time with you. That’s the biggest relief ever. That was the nice thing for me. It was not having constant anxiety and waking up thinking I need to gamble. It was so nice to spend quality time with family: to have a drink, have some food and truly enjoy myself.”
Samantha Turton, Head of Remote Support Services:
“We recognise that the festive season, traditionally a time of joy, can bring unique challenges for those affected by gambling harm. The alarming statistic that almost half of those experiencing gambling harm have used money intended for Christmas presents to gamble underscores the severity of the issue.
“We are ready to support anyone struggling throughout the festive period. As well as our Helpline, our Live Chat and WhatsApp are there to support those who may not be comfortable talking while with family and friends. As the festive season approaches, let us extend a helping hand to those experiencing gambling harm, reinforcing the spirit of compassion and support.”
You can also get free one-to-one support sessions through the National Gambling Support Network, where you will be able to meet a professional each week in your region.
*Those gambling at harmful levels is denoted by a score of 8+ on the Problem Gambling Severity Index.