Teenagers and young people in the West Midlands are left ‘broken and suicidal’ due to rising levels of gambling addiction – with the ease of betting online and the link between sport and gambling proving a worrying lure.
Children still in school are already developing online betting habits, with some being so deep into their early twenties that they see their relationships implode, have difficulty keeping jobs and their sanity plummets. Some turn to crime to feed their habit.
For some too, the despair they feel is so great that they consider suicide, seeing no other way out. David Hollingsworth, himself a former drug addict, says he doesn’t believe the crisis has ever been this bad or hit people this early.
He oversees a residential rehabilitation center in Dudley, one of several run by the Gordon Moody specialist charity, where the most troubled drug addicts can get help through an intense 14-week residential program. The charity finds that the average age of people referred for help is rapidly falling and waiting lists are getting longer. “Before, it was middle-aged and older men who were the most troubling cases and most likely to seek our help.
Read more: Vulnerable people and drug addicts are ‘encouraged’ to gamble in the city’s poorest neighborhoods, councilors fear
“Now we’re seeing more young men, in their late teens and early 20s, and more women. The average age of our residents is now 31.”
It’s a result of the 24-hour online gaming culture still present in people’s lives, he said. “It used to be that a gambling addiction could come on slowly, now everything is accelerated, the whole process from a first bet and what is considered harmless fun to addiction happens much faster,” Mr Hollingsworth said. .
“We all have access to cellphones, and if you’re addicted to gambling, that causes problems. You could be lying in bed and losing a whole month’s wages without getting out from under your duvet.”
He said the lifestyle of drug addicts had changed and the problems were much easier to hide. “It used to be a problem that plagued men who were at the betting shop or at the racetrack, or sometimes at the casino. I was a drug addict myself, 20 or more years ago, spending time at the dog track or the betting shop. But at least I had the respite of knowing that the shops were closed, the track closed. Now there is no escape.
“We’re bombarded 24/7 with a lure to get your fix. It’s a terrifying place for an addict. I’m not surprised that the average age of those who take damage is getting lower and the problems are showing up a lot earlier.”
As a recovering drug addict, Mr Hollingsworth said he had strategies in place that helped him ignore advertisements, betting shop windows and other lures. But he said it was becoming increasingly difficult for current drug users to avoid, with adverts appearing on TV, at sporting events and on phones.
Payday loans and easy credit all add risk. Gambling aid agencies including Gamblers Anonymous, treatment clinics and charities are seeing cases rise.
The UK’s first game of chance GambleAware charity, which offers free confidential support to anyone concerned about gambling, says just under 200,000 people in the West Midlands are experiencing gambling-related harm. They want anyone concerned to seek help sooner, to make sure his gambling habit doesn’t spiral.
A helpline and live chat are available to help. The charity is also part of a network of organizations pushing for more restrictions on gambling online, through advertising, in sport and on the streets.
Comedian John Robins, a recovering drug addict, leads his awareness campaign, sharing his own story of addiction and how it nearly drove him to suicide. He spoke to BBC Three about his struggles, with an excerpt below.
Mr Hollingsworth said the nine-bed unit in Dudley, which helps around 70 people a year, is a “place of last resort”, when other treatment options have not worked. It only cares for those considered most at risk, with a constant waiting list of people desperate for help.
“It’s voluntary of course, there are no bars on the windows. The program is intensive and challenging, but we see people go from being suicidal and broken to being hopeful. It’s a place of hope.”
New residents are asked to hand over their money, cards, and phones upon arrival, and only get them back after extensive work on the root of their addictions, money management, and relationships.
Free 24/7 National Helpline:0808 8020 133
“Once the lesson is over, they have to go back and regain control, and that’s the big challenge,” he added. When people arrive, “they are likely to have lost relationships, jobs, and potentially turned to criminal behavior to fund their habit. They display high levels of deception and feel they have nowhere to go.
“They can be in a very desperate state. Some say they are suicidal, not feeling like they are getting out of the life they are leading, so there is a huge amount of rebuilding work to be done.
“But we’re not a miserable place because what we give is hope. Newcomers will see men further down the journey who are already making a difference, and that gives them hope. .
“Physically, people are often in deep trouble. They will have neglected their physical and emotional well-being. They will have spent much of their lives planning and scheming, fully focused on the game, sometimes forgetting to wash, to take care of themselves – even just taking a daily walk in the fresh air can be a novelty.
“We help them lay the groundwork for a game-free life, but it’s an extremely difficult time after they’re gone. If it’s something they’ve been doing for years, it won’t be fixed in a few weeks. So we also have outreach and aftercare workers and they will provide direct and regular help for six months or more, and encourage to build a support network around them.
“It’s a long process. We don’t measure success immediately. If someone leaves us and plays sporadically but continues to fight the good fight, that’s what success could look like.
“Twenty years ago I completed the treatment program, and a week after I left I was playing. Was I a failure for that, or should my success be judged on where I am now in my life?”
He said the charity also saw a growing problem among young women, with a new residential program now in place.
Are you worried that you or a friend or loved one has a gambling addiction? Signs to look out for:
* Give up previous activities, such as going out, dating, leisure activities and spending more time alone
* Spends too much time on or staring at their phone
* Seem to run out of money very quickly after payday, or otherwise seem to have extra money without explanation. They can also borrow money more often or sell property
* Become defensive and argumentative when the issue is raised
* They talk about the game more often
* They neglect work, school, family, personal needs, or household responsibilities
* They seem anxious, worried, guilty, depressed or irritable.
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