Joshua Jones, a 23-year old accountant, took his own life last summer. He was young, bright and had a good job, but his world had been blighted by an online gambling addiction. Joshua was said to have lived a "double life", taking out copious loans to feed his habit.
Unlike a dependency on drugs or alcohol, gambling is often called 'the hidden addiction' because it's not usually discovered by those around the gambler until the last stages.
"They are not like the alcoholic – the breath does not smell of dice," points out Raymond Dixon, lead addiction counsellor at Nightingale Hospital.
But the problem is no less serious. For the 0.1% of people who are gambling addicts, their habit completely takes over their lives and compromises their relationships, jobs and social life.
It doesn't help, Raymond says, that many of us still believe these common myths about gambling addictions:
1. It's about greed
Problem gambling is about many things, but a desire for riches isn't actually one of them. Raymond reveals there are two main types of gambler he comes across in the clinic: escape gamblers and action gamblers. Escape gamblers generally play chance games, such as slot machines. For this type of person, their addiction is almost hypnotic and about escaping their everyday reality.
Whereas action gamblers tend to play skill games, where they can pit their wits against the house, such a poker or race track betting. For these people, it tends to be about abating poor self-esteem, Raymond points out.
"But it is not about the money. Money is just the vehicle to achieve the desired emotion. However much money is won, it will be put back on the table until it is all lost."
2. It's just weak willpower
Problem gambling is an impulse control disorder that's obsessive and compulsive. And it can be just as addictive as alcohol or drugs. For instance, it ticks the same boxes on an addiction chart as these substances, including:
- An increase in tolerance. More bets have to be placed to achieve the desired emotional effect over time.
- Withdrawal symptoms. If the gambler either tries to abstain or cannot gamble then they experience cravings, which can manifest themselves amongst others as extreme anxiety, sweating, panic, inability to concentrate and insomnia.
- Continued use despite negative consequences. Even though the debts are mounting and relationship and careers are at risk, they cannot stop gambling.
3. You have to gamble every day for it to be a problem
Some gamblers do bet every single day, but there are plenty of others who only bet sporadically, reveals Raymond. It can still have serious consequences for the gambler and people close to them. But when does gambling turn from a harmless hobby into a full-blown addiction? The simple answer, says Raymond, is "when control is lost and it causes problems."
"It's the same answer as when social drinking becomes an addictions. When control is lost, the drive to gamble becomes emotional more than cognitive, and that is when the betting increases and the gambler begins chasing their losses – resulting in increased stakes and even further losses."
The signs that accompany problem gambling can be varied, from depression, anxiety,mood swings, insomnia and stomach complaints, to an inability to pay household bills, and being secretive about how they spend their time and money.
4. A gambling addiction only affects the gambler
Addiction is called a 'family disease', Raymond says, as it affects everyone close to the one with the problem. He believes that in some extreme cases, the people around the gambler can actually become more unwell than the person with addiction, because they're on the receiving end of the mood swings, the constant financial crises, the lying and manipulation. Some even blame themselves for this state of affairs, thinking there must be something wrong with them for all this to be happening.