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Gambling Addiction & Families

How Does Problem Gambling Affect Families?

The Online Gambling Harm Inquiry Final Report, June 2020 determined that “The impact of online gambling harm goes well beyond the gambler themselves of course, it impacts on families, communities”. In 2019, results of a survey carried out by the UK Gambling Commission highlighted that those who follow gambling companies through social media include 11-16 year olds and 11 percent of those young people had used their own funds to gamble.

Those who attended the Gambling Addiction & Youth, MHWB Network event 26th October 2020, expressed that self-help is the main support strategy those with gambling addictions are encouraged to embrace, which is why when it comes to gambling, we often hear phrases such as ‘responsible gambling’. If adults can struggle to gamble responsibly, can we really expect children and young people to demonstrate such high levels of self-control and not succumb to peer pressure and the psychological pull of specially formulated marketing?

Kevin Mailey shared his thoughts as one who has lived experience of problem gambling and openly discussed how the consequences have affected his family and continue to have an impact on his relationships today. Throughout the session, participants expressed their thoughts on the realities of risks and harm.

The Commission on Crime and Problem Gambling launched by the charity Howard League for Penal Reform in 2019, determined that gambling related crimes included child neglect, domestic abuse and desperate street robberies. A study observing 2,000 individuals carried out by Lund University, Sweden, over a period of eleven years revealed that individuals dealing with gambling addiction are fifteen times more likely to end their own life than others of the general population. While from time to time UK national news highlights individuals who have taken their own life due to gambling debts, exact data of gambling related suicide continues to be a challenge to uncover.

While support is available in many forms, there is a need for more qualitative therapeutic support in addition to more partnership of gambling support agencies in order to meet the vast needs of those suffering as a result of gambling addiction.

Positive Way Forward

As a result of growing concerns around problem gambling, 2019 saw the very first NHS gambling clinic open for children in a bid to combat the issue of 55,000 children classed as having a gambling problem. This was a move strongly supported by Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic and the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ spokesperson on behavioural addictions “Gambling disorder is a destructive condition which doesn’t discriminate. It wrecks lives, pulls families into debt and can leave people feeling suicidal”.

The Department for Education made plans for gambling awareness to become part of the school curriculum. This came into effect September 2020 meaning all schools are required to ensure secondary school pupils are made aware of the risks of gambling.

How to Help

Below is a short list of gambling support agencies which is by no mean exhaustive.

Some signs for parents and practitioners to be aware of which could relate to gambling:

· Frequently asking to purchase virtual items for computer games (See Loot Boxes)

· Change of character / behaviour

· Withdrawal from family and friends

· Sudden change in levels of attainment

· Avoiding school/college/university

· Lack of interest in lifetime hobbies

· Possession of expensive items without clear explanation

· Borrowing or stealing money

· Selling personal items

· Demonstrating higher levels of anxiety

· New interest in newspapers, magazines, scratch cards sports scores etc.

· More interest in online gambling

Where to Seek Help

Education Projects


I would like to offer a special thank you to Tony Kelly from Red Card Gambling Education Project, for the eye-opening workshop presented to the MHWB Network on Monday 26th October 2020. It was an informative session bringing clarity around the risks and harm which arise as a result of gambling addiction, affecting individuals, youth and families.

Yvette Dooley - MHWB Network

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