On Friday last week the London Evening Standard’s front page carried a photo of a attractive young actress, smiling, arm in arm with her husband. The photo accompanied an article covering the inquest that day into the suicide of Lynsey Pow. Shockingly, a year ago, that same young woman in the photo, hanged herself. The headline claimed drug and online gambling addiction. Before taking her life she had telephoned her husband to apologize for the gambling debt and her bank statements, left open, were found at her home.
“I don’t recognise her”, I heard someone say as they read the same article, on my train journey home. As a therapist specializing in gambling addiction and women, I recognised the symptoms from the sad story only too well. When it comes to gambling addiction, the confident smile, smart dress sense, so easily hiding the chaos and desperation which lies beneath. The successful career now familiar as an increasing amount of women I treat for gambling addiction are middle class professionals. There are after all so few visible symptoms compared to drug addiction, no dilated pupils, no change in speech or physical loss of control. The article spoke of her receiving treatment for drug addiction, but with no mention of treatment for gambling addiction. Again, a recognisable theme if this indeed was the case. So often my clients in treatment speak of any drug or alcohol problems they may have as being treated as ‘more serious’ than gambling addiction. Or, of being screened or at least asked about drugs and alcohol if they approach a GP with stress, anxiety or depression, which all can be either cause or consequence of addiction, but so rarely are they asked about gambling. So, too ashamed to mention it, they do not mention it.They lose a chance for treatment.
All too often, both men and women I work with say in all seriousness, “I wish I had a drug or alcohol problem instead, then at least they would understand. They would know I can’t just stop.” The they of whom they speak are partners, family and friends. Gambling addiction is much misunderstood and fearing judgment, damaged trust and losing relationships and careers, so many who suffer the pain and shame of gambling addiction do so in silence, hoping against hope that just one more day, just one big win will sort out the devastating debt they are terrified to reveal. They know that revealing their gambling will also reveal the lies they have told, sometimes for years, and will tear to shreds the trust of those they love and respect and so before they do disclose the truth, often desperately want to put gambling in the past. Hoping that to be able to say in past tense that they had a problem might just save their marriage, family career.
I cannot help wondering if for Lynsey Pow, like so many women I work with in treatment, gambling online started out as a way to escape life’s stresses and strains for a while, which then spiraled out of control and into debt and the misery that brings. Feeling trapped by debts, fearing discovery, depression deepening it can seem the only way is to keep gambling not only in hope of a win, but to continue to escape the hell that life has become. Some then turning to drugs or alcohol to try to forget for a time the devastating consequences of their gambling. The rates of attempted suicide among gambling addicts are around double the UK national average (NHS,2013) and I have seen so many men and women for whom suicide has felt like an option when the drugs and drink no longer ‘work’ and gambling addiction has turned into a terrifying trap. The positive news is, that no matter how impossible it seemed to them at the time, I have seen them turn their lives around to be fulfilling, rewarding and gambling- free.
So, if you read the article on Friday, have a gambling problem and maybe are feeling concerned for your own safety, remember:
There is always another way out of the gambling trap, you just need someone to help you find it. Do not keep your problem a secret and do seek help. You have a real addiction and your long- term recovery can be every bit as real.