The most secret of all addictions — gambling

The most secret of all addictions — gambling

A man plays poker on his computer. Many gamblers come to Tabor Lodge when the family finds out they are suddenly under significant financial constraints because of the addiction.

In the final instalment of our three-series on addiction in Cork, Kelly O’Brien talks to the clinical director of rehabilitation centre Tabor Lodge about gambling and drug use.

Gambling is the most hidden addiction in the country right now, according to an expert working at a Cork centre for rehabilitation.

It’s also one of the addictions most likely to leave you in financial ruin, and yet the Government seems to have no interest in cracking down on the sector.

That’s according to Mick Devine, clinical director of Tabor Lodge – a residential facility, based in Belgooly, for people who are battling addiction.

He said the area remains incredibly under regulated and that it is far too easy for people to gamble away their savings, or to get into huge amounts of debt, either online or in a physical bookmaker outlet.

Even teenagers are being sucked into the gambling world. Mick said he knows of at least one secondary school in Cork where the students spend their lunch break placing bets down the bookies – and he would be incredibly surprised if this turned out to be an isolated case.

“With that school, the pupils leave the school during their break and they will go down to the bookies and put on bets. I don’t know how common that is, but I’d say it’s common enough,” he said.

He wants to see an end to bookmakers being able to sponsor big sporting events, and also wants the Government to clamp down on their ability to email and text customers, particularly with tempting offers of free bets that keep people chasing their losses.

Mick used the example of a client who was driving to Tabor Lodge for treatment. While on his way in, a bookmakers contacted him with an offer of a €500 free bet. Thankfully, the man was able to continue his journey and access the help he needed, though he admitted he did seriously consider turning back to give it ‘one more go’.

“I think bookies are very smart in terms of advertising. They have the text messages and the email promotions and they have celebrities sponsoring their events – sport stars and jockeys promoting them – and this all gives this sense of celebration, of joy, of happiness, and I think that definitely has an impact on how we view it,” said Mick.

“It’s socially acceptable for everyone to have an account with a bookies, or an app for a bookies… it’s the norm now. And there seems to be no appetite for regulation. People’s opportunities to gamble have increased hugely over the last few years and our society seems to have normalised this.” 

Mick said Tabor Lodge has been treating people with gambling addictions since the centre opened in 1989. In recent years, however, the amount of people presenting with gambling problems has increased.

“The numbers have definitely grown in recent years. It’s certainly more casual now for our clients to be reporting gambling activities. And while it used to just be men, women have gotten into it now as well.” 

Gambling, he explained, is an extremely toxic addiction to have because it is so easy to hide. Unlike alcohol abuse or drug use, there are no immediate physical signs of the addiction.

“It is hidden in the sense that a person can be gambling away at a computer, for example, and unless you’re paying close attention to what they’re doing on the screen it can look as if they’re just working, or doing normal computer activities. Whereas if someone has spent hours smoking cannabis or has been drinking alcohol, it’s going to be very visible,” said Mick.

“You have to really probe the gambler to see that although they’re there in body they’re not really available, they’re not really connecting, they’re not really engaging in the conversation that you’re having and they’re quite kind of dulled or preoccupied.” 

Gambling, he said, is also a very solitary activity that shuts people off from the outside world.

“It can also result in a person not getting enough sleep – maybe they’re up all night in front of a computer while their family is in bed – and this can have knock-on effects on day-to-life and someone’s performance in school or college or work.” 

When someone is addicted to gambling, said Mick, they tend to start telling lies about their activities to their loved ones. They also tend to ask others for monetary loans to feed their habit, or can begin to take money from work.

If someone who is addicted to gambling has decided not to gamble that day, they can be very irritable or agitated. If they have gambled and lost they may seem depressed, and if they have gambled and won, they may seem elated.

Mick explains that wild mood swings are characteristic in these situations.

Usually someone addicted to gambling will only seek help after a large development has taken place – like a particularly large loss, or if someone close to them discovers the addiction.

“The person gambling will often come to Tabor Lodge when the family finds out they are suddenly under significant financial constraints because of the addiction. Maybe a mortgage hasn’t been paid or there’s a bank card they didn’t know about or there’s a loan or an overdraft they didn’t know about,” said Mick.

“Or else maybe there has been defrauding going on in the workplace and they’ve been sacked or they’ve been threatened with being sacked. And that brings the gambler to Tabor Lodge. And they’re usually in a significant crisis by the time they get here… and the family relationships are usually severely impaired. The family may be in shock too because often their financial circumstances are suddenly entirely different than they thought they were.” 

While some people are solely addicted to gambling, Mick explained that others present with dual-addictions.

Often, someone with a drug problem will use gambling as a quick way to get funds to buy drugs, or alcohol.

“We have been living in an age of austerity where people have a lot of problems and a lot of people are turning to alcohol and drugs and gambling to provide temporary relief. We’re becoming more fond of using mood altering substances, not less fond of it. That would be an illusion,” said Mick.

“Something needs to change, and change quickly. The Government needs to clamp down on regulations. People’s lives are being severely affected.” 

For more information about the Tabor Group and its services, go to www.taborgroup.ie. To access help for addiction from the Tabor Group, phone 021 488 7110 or email info@taborgroup.ie.

MORE PEOPLE BECOMING ADDICTED TO PRESCRIPTION MEDICATION

In terms of drug use, the most common drug of choice for Tabor Lodge clients last year was cannabis, followed by heroin, cocaine, ecstacy and benzodiazepines.

But in the last few years, staff at the centre have seen a marked increase in the amount of people presenting who are addicted to prescription drugs, or over-the-counter medication.

Mick Devine, clinical director of Tabor Lodge, said that members of the public often don’t realise how addictive such medication can be. They think that because they are being sold legally that they are not at risk of developing a dependency on them.

This assumption is wrong, he said, and people need to be aware of the potency of items they can pick up in the pharmacy.

In addition, people are also now accessing stronger, yet entirely legal, medications online and having them delivered to them by post.

This is particularly an issue with codeine-based products, which are highly addictive.

When asked if he thought general practitioners nowadays are too inclined to write prescriptions for people, Mick said the issue was an extremely complex one.

“I think the role of a GP is extremely challenging. If someone presents to them and they have a 15 minute window to assess them… and the person is in distress and they’re under pressure to alleviate that in a very short time… then a prescription is really going to be what they can do about it,” he said.

Surprisingly, the number of people reporting heroin addictions at Tabor House is lower than people might expect.

“The response to the heroin problem in Cork is to put people on methadone which is essentially moving them from one substance to another. While we agree with the agencies that are doing this, and that they are doing great work with the several hundred heroin addicts in Cork right now, our method is to show people how to lead substance free lives,” said Mick.

“Arbour House and Heron House are doing great work in meeting that problem here, in stabilising people and reducing the harm that heroin is causing them.” 

Mick explained that having an addiction is like having a disease – one that you can’t cure. He likened it to diabetes, in fact – you can’t cure it, you can only learn how best to manage it.

But, he said, with the right guidance and support, people can get the help they need.

“Accessing treatment really is so easy. I don’t think people realise. They think they have to go on a waiting list or something. If you make that phone call, you can be in treatment within days. Hours even,” he said.

“But what we have here, it is a residential setting, they have to engage. They can’t kind of slink off and isolate themselves. It can be quite challenging for people to be here, but it does help them.” 

IT IS POSSIBLE TO BECOME ADDICTED TO NEARLY ANYTHING

While alcohol, drugs, and gambling are the most common addictions people present with, it is possible to become addicted to almost anything, according to Mick Devine, clinical director of Tabor Lodge.

People can become addicted to working out, watching TV, having sex, working, eating, shoplifting, watching porn, smoking cigarettes, or even accessing the internet and browsing social media.

Often, people present with addictive personalities, and so can be, and are likely to be, addicted to more than one substance or act or behaviour, all at the same time.

“I do think there seems to be a genetic predisposition to addiction,” said Mick.

“A number of studies have been done to back up that standpoint. We also ask clients if there would have been anyone in their family who would have been an addict, and most of them would answer yes to this. In most cases it would have been their father.” 

He reiterated that addiction can take many forms.

“People can get addicted to loads of different things. They can get addicted to people, or feelings, or behaviours. People can read a book addictively, or watch TV addictively. They are trying to get a break from the real world,” he explained.

“People can also be addicted to work – they stay after hours, they make sure everything is perfect, they go home and think about work. And they may be rising up the ladder in their work or in their career, but their personal life, and their personal relationships, and their own mental health, are suffering severely because of it.” 

Mick said that people who are so inclined really need to try and recognise they have a problem and seek professional help.

“I would ask people who think they might have a problem with addiction to phone us, or phone another agency that can help, or go to a GP. The aim is to get yourself in front of a professional who can give an initial assessment,” he said.

“They will either say yes, I think you need to do more about that, or they will say well how about you don’t drink or gamble or take drugs for a week and see how that goes. And if they are not able to stop for a week, then they need to do more about it. They need to reach out, ask for help. And the help is there. If they ask for it, they will get it.”

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