Gambling addiction in women is more widespread than ever before and the impact can be devastating not just financially, but on the personal lives of those involved, says writer and therapist Liz Karter.
The leading UK expert in gambling addiction in women, Karter will be in Cyprus for the first Responsible Gaming Awareness Week being jointly organised by the National Betting Authority and the Cyprus National Gaming and Casino Supervision Committee from October 8 to 14.
In an interview with in-cyprus.com, Karter addresses the issue of gambling addiction in women, the types of gambling women are more likely to get addicted to and the early warning signs.
She also shares success stories of individuals who have managed to overcome addiction and live happy, healthy lives.
Q: How serious is gambling addiction among women – is it less widespread than among men or is that just a mistaken perception?
Gambling addiction in women is increasingly serious. Statistics say that gambling addiction in the UK remains at a lower level for women than for men. However, as a practicing therapist I have seen huge changes in my 18 years of practice.
When I first started in practice, hardly any women would come to seek help and when they did they would imagine that they were the only woman who ever had a problem with gambling. It was so hidden and so rare for a woman to talk about having a gambling problem. Nowadays, increasingly women are approaching treatment services with gambling addiction. Does this mean that there are more women developing addiction to gambling? Or does it mean that they are now more comfortable seeking help as gambling addiction is recognised as a very real problem? For me I think there is an element of truth in both.
I do believe that the problem is more widespread in women than ever before and that online gambling, which is a form that women who become addicted favour, will only see a rise in gambling addiction in women.
Q: Are there particular types of gambling that women are more likely to get addicted to?
Women who become addicted to gambling favour products which create a sense of mental and emotional numbness. They are much less likely than men to talk about getting a thrill, or excitements from gambling. They are much more likely to describe wanting to think and feel nothing in the time that they are gambling. Therefore, women tend to get addicted to traditional slot machines and /or online gambling. When staring at the screen they can forget about the things that trouble them.
Q: Are some people more vulnerable to becoming addicted, and if so are there early warning signs that they or those close to them should look out for?
Anyone who regularly gambles to try to make themselves feel better when they are feeling stressed, depressed, or anxious is putting themselves at risk of developing an addiction to gambling. So, people who are going through a life crisis, or suffer from mental health problems are particularly vulnerable to becoming addicted to gambling. Early signs of an addiction developing are spending both unaffordable amounts of time and money gambling and starting to feel agitated when not gambling.
Q: Can you give us some examples of the negative effects of gambling addiction?
The negative effects of the addiction are so much more than loss of money, although the financial impacts are colossal. As debts build, many addicted to gambling will beg, steal and borrow to fund their addiction. Frequently, my clients tell me that their biggest regret is the loss of time which they wasted on gambling. Relationships break down and careers fail, because the person with the addiction becomes completely preoccupied with gambling. Gambling addiction can be a consequence of someone experiencing stress or depression and using gambling as a form of self-medication but gambling only makes the stress and depression much worse.
Q: Is it the case with gambling addiction that the only way to overcome it is to abstain altogether or can former addicts become responsible gamers?
Whether someone can return to responsible gambling depends on the individual. I do know of some people who had an addiction to gambling who have returned to responsible gambling patterns. They tend to be people for whom gambling got out of control because of loss chasing or because they encountered a life crisis and gambling was their escape. Once their crisis is resolved they are able to use gambling again just for fun. For those who love the excitement of gambling, they can easily be hooked back into addictive gambling from the moment they return to it – even after years of strong recovery. I find that most people who have been addicted to gambling don’t want to gamble again once they are in a strong recovery: they don’t want to risk losing their peace of mind, let alone their money.
Q: Can you share some ‘success’ stories of women who were addicted to gambling and were able to overcome it?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is seeing people stop gambling and start living healthier and happier lives. When Michael came to see me for the first time he had been gambling for over 15 years in bookmakers. He was a high earner but had to give up his job as his gambling was impacting his mental and physical health. With his marriage also collapsing as his gambling created money problems and made him withdrawn and angry, Michael felt suicidal. It took a year of weekly therapy, but not only did Michael stop gambling, he is now much happier. We identified that the root cause of his gambling addiction was stress. That insight then made it possible for us to work out ways for Michael to manage his stress in a healthy way. He now has a job which he enjoys and keeps his stress levels low. His marriage is slowly but surely is getting back on track as trust builds.
Caroline is another inspiring example. When she first came to see me, she had given up hope of ever getting better. She had tried for ten years to get help for her online gambling addiction but nobody understood what gambling addiction really was all about. She cried through our first session as she told me how much she now hated gambling but just could not stop. With over £90,000 of debt she could not let go of the hope that she might win some money back. With extra help and support to get through the first four weeks of withdrawal from gambling – always the most difficult stage she was off to a good start. We worked out that Caroline needed to find a healthier way to manage her anxiety, which gambling had helped her to escape from. She now is almost one-year gambling free and is a delight to know and one of the warmest and funniest women have met.
I believe that anyone can have their own story of successful long recovery from gambling addiction. The first step is facing the fact that they have a problem and then finding the right kind of help and support for them.
Karter will will speak at a seminar to be held at Filoxenia Conference Centre on “Gambling Addiction in Women: It is all About Relationship” on Monday.
On Tuesday she will present her book “Women and Problem Gambling” at the Leventis Gallery from 11-13:00.