Although for most of us gambling is an occasional pastime with no significant repercussions, for some it can develop into something infinitely more dangerous.
Experts think problem gambling is a real mental illness that can quickly result in debt, crime, depression and sometimes even suicide.
The most recent national survey looking at gambling habits found that there were around 451,000 problem gamblers in Britain.
Unlike other addictions, such as smoking, drugs and alcohol, gambling has few physical symptoms – making it difficult to spot and treat.
Now the ‘hidden addiction’ will be bought to the nation’s attention tonight with the 20:30 broadcast of BBC Panorama’s programme ‘Gambling Nation’.
In the programme, Panorama speaks with a number of problem gamblers including Keelin Carroll, a mother who developed a gambling problem after the death of her 13-month-old son.
“When Ethan died I just felt completely lost,” she says. “When it was quiet in the house my mind would start whirring and I couldn’t cope with the emotions that came into my head. I felt I needed to escape.”
Keelin found her escape at the local arcade, where she would spend up to five hours at a time gambling away thousands of pounds she’d borrowed from the bank.
She describes her addiction as so uncontrollable and so destructive that she contemplated driving into a wall to end it all.
According to Professor Jim Orford, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham, problem gamblers no longer care about winning. For them, gambling is just a compulsion. They do not enjoy it, but they depend on it for some reason.
Charity GamCare offered counselling to 2,639 problem gamblers last year but the service fails to stretch to large parts of the UK, including Cornwall and Wales.
Around 50,000 people ring the GamCare helpline but Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University believes this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Keelin is now trying to get her life back on track for the sake of her two children, but admits that it will be a lifetime struggle.
If you think you might have a problem with gambling, it is important to know that help is available.
To find out how counselling could help you, please visit our page on Gambling.
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