Dan's Note: I used to believe that gambling did not qualify as an 'addiction.' I believed that chemical addictions were real, that behavioral actions were just 'compulsions.' I no longer believe this.
My mother had sought treatment for suspected restless leg syndrome. The doctors prescribed Requip, a dopamine agonist. The doctors warned her (in fact, the medication comes with a black box warning) that she might exhibit behaviors like hypersexuality and compulsive gambling. She no longer takes that medication.
What amazes me is the potential destructive behaviors are initiated by that medication. It's changing the chemistry in the brain itself! The surprising thing with gambling is that it elicits a similar response within the brain just by thinking about the activity or, of course, doing it.
After thinking this through, the possibility that a person could naturally suffer a brain "hijacking" from a behavior without chemicals didn't seem so strange to me. I now believe addiction to gambling is real. This story comes to us from the UK (mind the 'football' references mean 'soccer' to US audiences). It's a first for Transformation is Real and I'm honored to share JW's story.
September 2008, I began my journey through higher education but little did I know it would be the beginning of my journey as a compulsive gambler.
That September, I saw the first lump sum of money arrive in my bank. I was 18. I had received regular income previously but only from part-time work. All of a sudden I had £2000 in my bank from Student Finance. My first thought was a night out with my new friends at University, involving a stint in the casino that saw me lose £250 (the maximum I could withdraw from the ATM).
I was angry at my first real 'loss' but soon got over it. I continued to gamble for the rest of the year, but only in £5-20 stints. Mainly I would bet on football matches. If I lost I would sometimes chase but only to a maximum of £20. By the time I was 19 I felt in control of my gambling and that it was purely recreation and a social activity with my friends.
I began to use betting shops instead of online sites. This led my gambling down a slippery slope. I'd find myself going in to put on a £5 bet, and walk out with either £100s up or £100s down on the roulette machine. It would make me angry; I would bet with money I couldn't afford to lose until it was all gone or I had managed to claw it back into a profit. It was at this stage my friends began to think I might have a problem, as I couldn't walk away, but that I was in denial. In the summer of 2010 when I was twenty, I went into the betting shop shortly after my final student loan had gone in and I lost £1000 on the machine, I felt awful but all I could think was how could I win it back? I lied to a friend and managed to borrow '£30' for bills.
The following day I walked back in with the £30 and put it into the machine, to my amazement I had managed to get the balace up to £1500! At this point I am back up to £500 profit, I lost £500 withdrew the £1000 and ended the week even. As long as I didn't lose, I didn't see it as a problem. So once again it was brushed under the carpet and life went on.
The next four years were pretty quiet, I would have the odd bet that spiraled into a £100 loss but nothing serious. I'd since had a little girl and to provide for her whilst continuing studies which refrained me from getting in that deep. But it was in these circumstances that the addiction took over. First I completed my studies finishing with a Masters in teaching.
I finally thought I had a system.
Within a week of completion I was offered my first real job in teaching football. I was earning a comfortable wage as well. My new partner recently also had gotten a comfortable job. In the Summer of 2014 things were about to take a turn for the worse. My wages, combined with the safety of my partner's, had led me to believe that betting bigger amounts was far more sustainable. Things hadn't yet gotten out of control, but looking back the signs were there. In August I got engaged to my partner providing a further safety net—if anything went wrong, I'd have her support. It was a subconscious safety net for sure, and not something I ever deliberately thought about.
By Christmas 2014, I used our wages to pay for a holiday to Disneyland Paris, and things couldn't be better. However, I was thinking: how can I win the money I spent on the holiday back on bets? Over the Christmas period I lost money on Christmas eve, and I thought once again over New Year. I arrived back from Disneyland with my perfect little family.
I said to my fiancée, "Disneyland has made me see all the happiness we can have without the need for betting."
When those words left my mouth, I genuinely meant them. but suddenly I'd found myself winning more and more. I began to keep a real sum of money hidden for myself, aside. I finally thought 'I have a system!' During this time I was lying to my partner over and over again: "No I haven't bet."
"Why would I bet again?"
"You're being paranoid."
She had every right to be suspicious; a compulsive gambler is the best liar in the world. I was thinking about gambling all day, every day. I bet on games I knew nothing about just to fill the time. I started to get counselling and I convinced myself and my partner that it would be enough…but it wasn't. From around March to April 2015 I was spoiling my partner rotten with all of my 'winnings'. Life was great, I'd found a system, I was winning and winning, no one would find out because my mood swings wouldn't be there as long as I won.
I honestly believe that the winning was the real beginning of my downfall and my realisation that I was genuinely suffering from the mental illness of being addicted to gambling.
Saturday, May 2nd, 2015: The beginning of the end…
My fiancée had gone out for the day with friends. I'd been left alone in the house with a full day of football and betting ahead. My fiance was worried, as I had relapsed previously in April. She didn't want to leave me. But as all compulsive gamblers do, I lied my way out. Over the next 12 hours I lost £4000, the final £1000 at 3am, which led me to calling and messaging my fiance who was out. I told her that I had lost all of my money, that I didn't want to be alive anymore, that I can't control the thoughts in my head and this was the end.
I slowly began to realise just how much of an impact this had on me mentally. I had financial losses, emotional losses, personal losses, stress, anxiety, debt, depression, highs, lows, deceitful behaviour, lying, hurting people that meant the most to me—without ever making the conscious choice to do so. Yet still, the voice in my head told me I had to keep going, I had to win it back. My system would work again…eventually.
Wednesday May 6th 2015: The best & worst day of my life—I had £1000 of my own money left; I was supposed to send it to my fiance that afternoon, and despite her telling me that it couldn't happen again after the weekend (she told me in no uncertain terms how much it hurt her--she was very clear), I couldn't control my actions. I lied again. I refused to send the money and lost it on a football match in the space of 30 minutes. I had lost all of my money ... but I was about to lose a lot more.
My fiancée returned home that night and told me she couldn't do it anymore, that our relationship was over. I knew the risks I was taking, yet I physically couldn't control the thoughts in my head or my actions. She had been there to help and try everything she could, but until I knew it myself I was never going to stop. And it was at that point, as she walked out of the door, that I realised, everything I could ever want or need had disappeared…and I'm not talking about the money.
In what way was it the best day, you ask? Because here I am—103 days—and I'm standing proud that since that moment I have not placed a single bet. I decided it was time to change, time to be the loving person I once was, time to beat my demons and achieve my goals like I had with every other aspect of my life. I was ready to stop gambling from taking away more of my life. I began a journal a couple of days later on Twitter, I went to see a doctor, I attended GA meetings, I restricted apps and sites on my phone, and made a vow to myself and to everyone I loved that I will use the things that help me every day, and treat each day as the first. I'm proud to say I'm 103 days gamble free, positive about all aspects of life, and thankful to have my health, my daughter and my family.
My ex-fiancée and I may have parted ways, but I'll forever be grateful for the wake up call that was so badly needed. I may live a life without her. But without the decision she took, who knows if I'd have one at all…
Today I am strong, tomorrow I will be stronger.
My name is JW and I am a compulsive gambler.
About the Author
JW is 25 years old, from the UK, formerly addicted to betting on football (soccer) and roulette.
Methods of recovery: Journals, positive thinking, Gamblers Anonymous, counseling, online group support, phone restrictions