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From Flutter to Fixation

The wise old maxim of ‘everything in moderation’ is never truer than referring to gambling. Millions of pounds are staked on football coupons every weekend as well as a quick flutter at the game, first scorer or correct score to add a little spice to the occasion. My team has won AND I’ve got some spends from it. Nothing wrong with that! In the same way that no-one is going to tell you there’s a problem in enjoying a night out with friends where the beer and wine flows just a little too freely, we all need to let off steam, wind down and seek distractions. Constant exposure to the harsh realities of 2013 isn’t healthy.

Motivations for gambling are numerous – the buzz of a win, being proven correct in a prediction or simply providing a way of following sport with a more invested in it. ‘It matters more when there’s money on it’, says one of the gambling market leaders, and there’s a ring of truth to that. In fact it goes further. To many it’s more a case of ‘it only matters when there’s money on it’.

Gambling psychology has shown that somewhere, deep down, many punters do so because they want to lose. They feel like the world is against them, nothing ever goes right and what better way to prove this than to lose a serious amount of dosh proving it.

Addiction, or even just a pre disposition to alcohol or certain drugs, carry alongside them some tell tales signs obvious to even the disinterested eye. A whiff of last night’s ale following you around the office, bloodshot eyes showcasing it wasn’t a good idea to keep going past chucking out time. Gambling addiction though can be masked much more easily. Who’s to tell that you’ve just blown £100 in a minute on online roulette? There’s no odour of the bookies or physical effect of logging on to an online casino.  It’s a clandestine and secretive master. However, for the individual in question there is a wider series of sensations. The sweaty palms, heart racing, face flushing as the results come in, the spin of the roulette wheel, one last whip from the jockey or straining to see how many minutes of added time are left. Get a win and the face flushes all the heat away, a smile creeps in and coolness envelopes you. A walk to the counter or a quick click on ‘refresh balance’ shows the monetary worth of the stress. Defeat and the face continues to burn, fists clenched, eye contact avoided or laptop slammed shut. Will you ever learn? Why can’t I control myself like everyone else? 

Professor Shane Thomas, who has conducted studies into gambling and depression, says it is difficult to know whether gambling leads to depression, or whether depressed people are predisposed to gambling.

“People gamble to escape bad relationships, or work pressures — a range of perceived problems, but some are obviously gambling in an attempt to escape from the sadness, anxiety and other troubling thoughts that are the symptoms of a mental illness,” Professor Thomas says.

His study in Australia showed that problem gamblers were more than 18 times more likely to experience severe psychological distress, more than four times more likely to abuse alcohol, and more than twice as likely to be depressed as people without a gambling problem. Beyond this studies have found that compulsive gamblers have increased instances of insomnia, high blood pressure and other stress related physical problems than others. There is also evidence to show, in a way similar to suicide, that males make up the vast majority of cases- around 75%, depending on which country is considered.

Unfortunately, like depression as a whole, a pervasive view of compulsive gambling, problem gambling, addiction to gambling- call it what you will- is of individuals needing to be ‘stronger’ and deal with it themselves. For every depressed person told to ‘cheer up’ there is a someone struggling with gambling seen as ‘greedy’ or ‘lacking control’. That’s only if the person affected can feel able to share the problem and the anxiety that follows. Societal views on it do much to put them off from seeking help, from family, friends or professionals. It seems much easier to generalise and label rather than listen, help and understand. Even the experts such as Prof Thomas struggle to pin down definites about the condition, all humans being so different and affected by the world in many divergent ways. Next time you see Chris Kamara fooling around in his adverts it may be worth musing over the times when a seemingly harmless flutter becomes a harmful fixation.

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