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Getting out of a gambling addiction

An interview with a gambler

‘Addiction to gambling’ is the first argument put forward by critics of the gambling industry, and the common disparagement of the habit, in turn, causes gambling addicts to feel ashamed with nowhere to turn. In this article, an ex-gambling addict shares his own personal experiences on the pitfalls of gambling but also some valuable guidance to others on becoming addiction free.

We are talking with the author of the Polish blog postawnasiebie.org who, although wishes to remain anonymous, wants to share his story with other gamblers, as a warning, but also an inspiration, to those seeking to break free from addiction…

“After leaving the treatment centre, it annoyed me that more and more people on Twitter promoted betting and nobody said anything about the risks” – says our interviewee, who has been gambling for over 10 years.

“I set up my blog with the hope that I could help someone. Today I get messages from readers that the blog was helpful to them, and by helping others by reliving my past in this way, it has allowed me to drop the burden that I have carried. Describing the present [within the blog] is also helpful in keeping me sober and keeping me focused on my personal development. The process of writing this blog is an addition to my own personal therapy treatment; therapy which has helped me understand myself, and the world around me, better.

What was your first bet?

It all began with the 1998 World Cup; the Brazil – Scotland match. I made a bet with my uncle’s friend that Brazil would win 2-1, and I was right. I won a half-liter bottle of Coca-Cola. I was 8 years old. My parents rarely let me drink it back then, so I was delighted to have won such a prize. But later we bet for the second time on the result of the final match in which Brazil played against France. I said 3-0 to Brazil, but the match was won by France.

How did you enter the world of betting? How old were you?

When I went to a boarding school during my high school era. One day a senior pupil told all of us that he had placed 50 zlotys (€12) in a bet and won 700 (€168). It blew my mind, but not enough for me to go and play immediately. I still had some sense back then that this was gambling and was dangerous. The other guys bet 2, 3 or 5 zlotys. One of them collected almost 60. And the winner was someone who knew next to nothing about football. I thought to myself if he was able to win, then a football fanatic like myself could too! The next day I bet my first coupon and that’s how it all started. I was 16 years old.

Where did you usually bet?

Where everyone did. At the beginning, it was only at betting shops and then later I started to bet online.

Why did you start with shops?
To play online, you had to send an ID card scan, which I didn’t have at the time because I was a minor. At the betting shops, no one asked me any questions.

How much did you spend monthly on bets?

Someone once told me, “Don’t think about how much you can lose; think about how much you can win.” It stuck with me and from then on I never counted how much I won or how much I had spent.

What did you like to bet on the most? Have you been an expert in any discipline?

Football. This is my area of expertise. But today on Twitter, matches are being predicted by real football experts (at least that’s what I would consider sport journalists to be, right?) and guess what? Their predictions are often on par to my own.

How does it feel like to win with a bookmaker?

It’s insane. Imagine that in a single evening you win the equivalent of your monthly salary. Or twice as much? Now imagine that in one evening you win a sum several times greater than your pay-out. And also how that feels when you win a couple of times in a short run. It’s crazy, but also very dangerous. At the time, however, I didn’t realise that. I felt like I was a god. I was convinced that sooner or later I would make a real fortune. I assumed that I was so strong that even if I lost, I would win eventually and in this way I would not only compensate but also earn more.

How did you hide your addiction from your family and friends?

Putting on a good face whilst playing a bad game. When I was with people I tried to be the life and soul of the party. Always smiling and joking. And when it was getting heated and someone was close to learning the truth – I then resorted to lying. Unfortunately, I lied pretty frequently and I am ashamed of it to this day.

When did you realise betting had become a serious problem?

I had many signs; the first one after only a few months of playing. Some of the signs had pushed me to end my gambling temporarily, however only for a short while. This time I believe it’s different. I’m never returning to that toxic place again.

Who helped you first?

My fiancée, my parents, my brother, my friend; all of them tried to persuade me to go to rehab however it’s difficult to remember who was first. I have met many kind-hearted people on the way. I could not do it without them.

Making serious decisions about turning your life around must certainly be accompanied by fear. But is that something to be ashamed of?

It was gambling that turned my life upside down. The decision to get treatment was the first step towards putting it back in order. The reason I still carry shame is mainly down to the suffering I caused my family.

Were you afraid? How did you deal with your fear?

For as long as I remember, I’ve lived in fear, only the reasons for this fear have changed. How did I deal with it? Today, when I reflect, I realise I did not deal with it well at all.

How do you get a placement in an addiction treatment centre?

Just like a doctor’s visit; at a national public expense or your own. You call the centre and make an appointment. Although the stay in the centre is often arranged by the patients family, and not themselves. That’s how it was in my case. My mother called.

What does it feel like when you check into rehab? Do you ever think about turning back and just giving it up?

My entire life flashed before my eyes. I felt like I had lost it as if I was going to say goodbye to everything I knew in a moment. I was very scared of what awaited me there [at the centre]. To add to this, I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt having failed my loved ones. Despite this, I didn’t ever think about turning back. A friend told me that if I wanted to live, I had to do it, which is why I thought this whole trip was a necessity. I was in such a hopeless situation that rehab was a kind of escape from it all.

Many are afraid of treatment centres – are they right to be?

I was most afraid of who I would meet there. In my case, there was nothing to be afraid of, I met many valuable people. Normal people, like everyone else, but with a history. The 8 weeks I spent in the centre was the first, and longest, separation I have had from my fiancée. I missed her, my family and my friends – which drove my mind crazy and made the time at the centre more difficult. I had a constant feeling of guilt, which I have previously mentioned.

Therapy? There were moments of fear, there were moments of sadness. There were tears, but also laughter. It was a gigantic mood swing. Staying at the resort was definitely not a vacation, but today looking back I can say that there is nothing to be afraid of. I’d even say, considering my addiction to gambling, how far it had gone and how much damage had been done, that going to the centre was the best thing that could ever happen to me.

What is the world like after leaving the centre?

Big and dangerous. In the centre I lived a sheltered life. The only worry I had was to avoid being caught smoking where it was prohibited. After you leave the gates you have to face the problems that had piled up over the years of active addiction.

So how do you deal with your new life outside?

There is no one way to do it. I’m still learning how to do this myself.

Is running a blog your own therapy?

The blog is an addition to my therapy. It helps me to understand myself, and the world around me, better.

Who knows about your addiction? Are you able to you tell your friends and family about what you have gone through openly?

My family, close friends and some acquaintances know. Well, and people from the company in which I’d worked before I went to the centre. The news has spread… But can I talk about it openly? When someone asks, I have no problems to answer their questions. But it’s not like I visit my grandmother or friends and brag about this part of my past. There is nothing in this story that I am proud of.

Do you feel any kind of stigma?

None that I’m aware of, no.

How do you perceive other gambling addicts?

I used to think that my story was unique. It was only later that I understood that we are all very similar as gamblers. We have the same stories that just really differ in some details. It doesn’t matter whether someone bets on sports or plays at the casino. They are all the same tools.

How do you look at the gambling industry now? Do you hold a grudge against it?

I don’t hold any big emotions towards the industry anymore. After leaving rehab, I got upset to see that people were promoting betting on Twitter yet no-one spoke of the possible consequences. That is why I decided to start a blog. But I don’t hold any grudges towards the industry.

Do you think there is such thing as ‘betting for fun’? Or is this a straight path to addiction?

There are those who say they only play for fun, and they are not addicted and that addiction isn’t a worry to them. I don’t wish to disagree with this viewpoint as it’s their business, not mine. I, however, never played for fun and became an addict almost instantly.

Which is worse: sports betting or casino? Or lotteries maybe?

This comparison doesn’t make sense. For a long time, I thought that ‘gamblers’ are only those who play in casinos. And then I met a guy who did and it turned out that I was the one with the most problems.

How can the gambling industry help prevent addictions?

Encouraging preventive actions or promoting positive approaches to gambling via media campaigns. I often hear people say that it wouldn’t be possible for the industry to support this type of campaign, like shooting their own foot, however, in my opinion, it would be a novel approach for the industry, with corporate social responsibility (CSR) a popular approach to business today.

Gamblers could still play, but perhaps we can encourage them to do so more consciously? Do you think the industry should set limits? Or should it be down to a player’s self-control?

Limits? Addiction means a loss of control, so there are never limits. At the height of my addiction I would definitely not set out my own limitations, and if someone else tried to impose any on me then I simply would go and play somewhere else. Same with self-control. Nothing would stop me.

How can the gambling industry help people who are already addicted?

There are many ways to do it. The question is – does the industry want to? However I believe a focus on CSR, as previously mentioned, can certainly help addicts but still allows the industry, and gamblers, to earn in the process.

What would you like to say to those who have gambling addicts in their life?

There are help and support for people like them, and if I were in their shoes, I would consider signing up. Although I understand that it is not an easy decision, I am certain, from my own experience, that a consultation with a therapist would give any addict invaluable guidance on how to cope with addiction. I don’t think I have enough ‘experience’ to give advice per se and I do not provide this on my blog either. I remember back when my friend talked me into going to therapy, he had told my fiancée to never believe a word I said and advised me that if I wanted to live, I had no choice but to go into rehab. He knew what he was talking about as he was a gambler himself and been through the treatment. His words hurt me back then but today I am grateful to him.

What would you like to say to all the addicts out there?

It wasn’t easy to stop. Admitting I was an addict was hard. And it was even harder to admit to myself that the only remedy for me was to go to rehab. And the separation from my loved ones for 8 weeks was particularly difficult to endure. And although it didn’t solve all of my problems, the treatment at the rehab centre was worth it.
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If you are concerned that you or someone close to you is addicted to gambling, get help!