We are currently in the middle of Safer Gambling Week in the UK, a period dedicated to promoting ways to avoid problems in this area. Having seen the text advertising this on Fulham’s shirts in their game against Everton it reminded me of how high the profile of the industry is. Eight Premier League teams carry the logo of a betting company whilst the commercial breaks in all sports, cricket inclusive, are regularly used to showcase offers. This comes in sharp contrast to a time that many of us will remember where, prior to the Gambling Act 2005, there was not sight or sound of such adverts on television.
The gambling commission found in 2016 that over 50% the population of England had gambled that year with over 500,000 identified as problem gamblers. Dr Tejus Patel and Dr Minal Jain, two of the founders of gambling addiction management app RecoverMe, were prompted to do something to help those encountering difficulties.
“Whilst studying medicine at the University of Sheffield a conversation in a GP clinic sparked our interest in this. A gentleman had come in due to mental health issues and because we were able to talk to him at length, rather than the usual ten minute appointment, we were able to hear lots of detail about the breakdown of his relationship and that he was contemplating taking his own life.
From there we spoke about financial stressors and that his gambling had developed to cause significant problems. The reason he was in this position was his gambling addiction. Then, in looking for options to help him we became aware of great work being done but that it is quite fragmented.
We hope the app can use the power of technology to overcome common barriers to treatment such as accessibility, flexibility and cost.”
For many it is the technology that has accelerated problems as accessibility couldn’t be easier. This is something that struck a chord with Tejus
“Someone said I can bet my whole life away in a mobile app but don’t have anything to overcome that.”
He believes the blended approach of the app has the ability to empower the individual using it to find ways to overcome addiciton
“Using CBT, used to treat many other addictions and conditions, it plays on the connection of thoughts, feelings and behaviours. It challenges them to reflect on their own gambling behaviour and work out strategies to counter this. It also has a diary to track their progress and understand trends of their gambling. Helps to build a better understanding of what is happening.
We also have a mindfulness element which helps to manage urges to gamble and focus on the present. Throughout it emphasises the importance of support. It’s a positive predictor to reducing gambling harm”
Often gambling addiction can be concealed but the impacts are potentially widespread
“It can affect financial, mental health, relationships. A whole host of issues. That’s why the app has an SOS panel giving immediate access to support” says Tejus.
Being able to spot the signs of problems is an important ability in managing any addiction or decline in wellbeing. Cricket can be a vital route for this through the simple act of caring for team and club mates. But what we are we looking out for in ourselves or others that could indicate that support is needed?
“It is hard to recognise it early on, therefore the term ‘hidden addiction’. People present with addiction quite late on, often after a variety of things have gone wrong. This can be in relationships, work and housing. This then has a knock on for their emotional state but can feel unable to talk about it.
The stress caused by it will result in familiar symptoms of restlessness as well sleep and appetite issues. It’s an addiction like any other” says Minal.
Tejus suggests a couple of questions worth asking
“It’s important to take the time to reflect on gambling habits. Are you chasing your losses? Are you preoccupied with gambling, at the expense of other things in life? It is different for everyone. A great tool to use is the Problem gambling severity index (include link) which goes through various questions to identify what support may be necessary”
Like anything done in full view of others, it is easy to view gambling as just a part of the normal routine. Indeed, for many it is but the knowledge that it can be a problem for some and the affect of addiction can be devastating should be enough to remind us to keep an eye out for signs of problems. The work done by the team behind RecoverMe and many others (see further reading below) highlights that help is always available.