Men’s Gambling Addiction: How To Support A Friend (And Spot The Signs)
Illustration by Mr Jasper Reitman
In November 2022, the British National Health Service reported a 42 per cent rise in referrals for gambling addiction. That this issue has worsened in recent years is no surprise. Anyone can access a 24-hour casino in their pocket with just a few swipes of their digits. And in an era when everyone is addicted to their smartphone, who knows – or even cares – whether you’re spending all day on Instagram or betting apps? It’s all just bright lights, levers and rewards. Dopamine hits, most of which just sap your time. Some of which can drain your money and ruin your life.
The problem is global. In the US, where betting laws have been relaxed, casinos are now legal in around 20 states – it was just nine in 2001. In January 2022, when mobile sports gambling became legal in New York, $1.6bn was spent by users. In Australia, Sportsbet spent an extra $19m on marketing in the first half of this year to combat an imminent government crackdown.
The proliferation of gambling seems to be driven by a deeper male malaise. The appeal of cryptocurrency trading and the get-rich-or-else philosophy encapsulated by the influencers such as Mr Andrew Tate incubate an idea that wealth is the route to happiness, and it is obtained once you understand the cheat codes. Last year, The Times published an article detailing a crisis of young suicidal men with gambling problems, and how the NHS was full of “young men in football shirts” who had fallen victim to advertising and addictive in-play betting.
The problem was given a mainstream platform in May when Brentford striker Mr Ivan Toney was banned for eight months for betting on Premier League games. He had his sentence reduced after he was diagnosed with an addiction. He is not the first footballer to be punished for gambling, but it seemed to strike a chord like never before. Premier League clubs have agreed to withdraw gambling sponsors from the front of their shirts. Four months ago, the UK government published a white paper, High Stakes: Gambling Reform In The Digital Age, which will implement levies on the industry, as well as increased checks on problem gamblers and maximum online stakes.
So, change is afoot, but the problem continues. What can you do? We spoke to Ms Zoe Osmond, the CEO of GambleAware, and Teddy, a recovering gambling addict and member of Gambling Anonymous, for their ideas on how to spot the signs of addiction in a loved one, and how to handle it effectively.
01. Remember, it’s difficult to identify
“The real tricky thing with gambling addiction is it’s very easily hidden,” says Teddy, who has been a member of GA for one year. “I have had friends who have struggled with drugs and alcohol abuse and it’s clear to see.”
“It’s hard to see the physical effects [of gambling addiction],” Osmond agrees.
02. So, learn how to spot the subtle signs
“There are several things you can look out for if you think a friend may be experiencing issues with gambling,” Osmond says. “They’re always thinking or talking about gambling, they lie about gambling or hide it from other people; they chase their losses or use gambling to get out of financial trouble, they gamble until all their money is gone.”
“I’ve spoken to some family members about what they noticed with me,” Teddy says. “I was withdrawn. I wasn’t always present. I was moody and distracted. Financially, things started being a problem. I was borrowing money. I didn’t have money to do anything.”
03. If you raise the topic, do it with caution
“It’s incredibly difficult to approach someone who has a gambling problem,” Teddy says. “The nature of addiction is to deny at all costs the effect the addiction is having on your life. Always [approach] in private, so the person can preserve their dignity.
“I was confronted in a calm but strong way,” he says. “I was told I had love and support and that I needed to be honest. There was no hiding any more. They were there for me, but they could only help if I came clean. Who was I in debt to? How much debt was I in? I had one negative experience from a family member – they were extremely harsh and critical. That didn’t work for me.”
“Our research found that three-quarters of those experiencing problems with gambling feel they can’t talk to loved ones about it because of stigma,” Osmond says. “When speaking to someone about their gambling, it’s important to let them know you’re concerned because you care about them. If they feel they are understood, they are more likely to talk openly and honestly. Try to be positive with your communication.”
04. Be an ally
“Just being there, being at the end of the phone [is important],” Teddy says. But you can take more action, and if you’ve had a problem yourself, talk about it. “Take someone to a GA meeting,” he suggests. “Being in GA has changed my life. I had reached a period of 14 months without gambling without doing any GA fellowship, but I was still sick. The relapse was going to happen and it did. I’ve got just over a year gamble free – my life is so much better.”
“Let them know they can get support if they need it at gambleaware.org,” Osmond says. “They can also call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133 [UK], which is free and open 24/7. You can also offer encouragement if they have taken steps to get help – rewarding positive behaviour is really important for encouraging success. If they’re doing well, make sure you tell them so that they can recognise the positive impact of their progress.”
05. You can’t help someone who doesn’t want it
“As with any addiction, it is ultimately down to the individual if they want to change,” Teddy says. “If they don’t want help, then it won’t happen. The change has to come from within. You can only really approach someone who wants help.
“The gambler needs to choose what they want, either a good life or to continue gambling,” he adds. “I think it’s really important that the emphasis is on the choice the gambler makes, not anyone else. Connect, empathise and tell your own story of experience, strength and hope. That’s all you can really do until the person is ready to accept help.”