To the outside world, Mike, 32, was a happily married dad working in finance. Privately, he was battling an addiction to gambling, which led to over £110,000 worth of debt – costing him his degree, marriage and almost his life. Now in recovery, and working with Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust (YGAM), here he describes a day in the throes of his addiction.
12.01: It’s payday and my wages have landed. Emma is asleep upstairs but I get my phone out and start gambling on online casino games.
02.15: Still playing. I’m on roulette. When that wheel starts spinning – whether I’ve bet £1 or £1000 – I get this powerful rush; a high that comes just before the ball lands. Whether I win or lose right now is almost irrelevant. I know I’m addicted to that chance, the risk. My balance says £5000, but because I’m doing it online, it doesn’t feel real. I know I’m never going to get that money, I’m just chasing my losses – and I need at least £30,000 to manage my debts right now.
03.46: I’ve lost all my winnings – and blown my entire monthly salary. I have nothing in my account for the next four weeks but I have rent and bills to pay, plus payday loan companies and loan sharks chasing me. The debt is crippling me. It’s fine, I’ll sort it tomorrow.
05.08: Can’t sleep. Anxiety is racing through me. Growing up, my family only ever gambled on the Grand National, but I remember lying to my parents about what I had for lunch at school when, really, I’d lost it on a bet with friends. At 16, I was betting regularly, but it ramped up at uni when my student loan dropped. That, along with the independence of living away from home – and a job working in a bookies – fuelled the fire. I didn’t think I had a problem, or that it was something you could even get addicted to. Then I won £980, and I remember thinking how easy it was. I started betting on any sport I could and buying scratch cards. When I saw a mate on an FOBT (fixed odds betting terminal) and he turned £10 into £100 in 60 seconds, my enthusiasm rocketed. Within months I was on the machines (playing roulette, blackjack and slots) for nine hours straight when I wasn’t working. Once I found the games online, that became my crack cocaine. Ten years later, it still is.
07.30: I’ve had a couple hours of broken sleep and the reality of what happened last night slams me the second my eyes open. I lie to Emma that I’m late for a work meeting – she’s already suspicious – and rush out the door without having breakfast.
08.50: Arrive at the office, but I couldn’t care less about work. Today is about keeping my head above water. I’m lucky I get to work flexibly and independently for my finance job but I’m abusing that position a lot these days. I just need to get any money I can this morning so that I can increase it at the bookies – gambling is the only way to fix this.
10.18: Productivity level is zero. I’m constantly distracted and can’t stop checking my phone. Every time an email or message vibrates, I’m convinced it’s someone chasing me for money.
11.55: I’ve spent the last 90 minutes firing 20 online applications off to loan companies. I’ve rinsed the normal means of borrowing – my credit rating is fucked – so I’m trying to borrow from people I shouldn’t. I know they have huge interest rates, but I just need my hands on that money – I’ll worry about the repayments later. Or, I’ll win at least something this month to keep me going.
12.30: A colleague asks why my hands are shaking. I tell him my brother is ill, and I’m really worried about him. He is, but I play that in my favour knowing it will give me breathing space. I know that sounds horrible, but that’s the kind of stuff I do now: I’m an expert in deceit and manipulation. Previously, I’ve asked close family members and mates to bail me out because I’d got into “a bit of debt”, and I’ve given them account details for a loan shark when, actually, it’s one that I’ve set up. I’ve told them I need £500 to make the repayment when, actually, I just need £200. It means I can use the other £300 to gamble. I put my gambling before everything and everyone else; including Emma when I steal from her purse, and my 18-month-old son, Rory, when I steal from his piggy bank. My mum has handed me cash, made me promise not to gamble it – and I’ve sworn on anyone’s life that I won’t, knowing full well I will.
13.05: Everyone’s off for lunch. I’m still not hungry. I have a couple of quid in change, and I’m going to head to a bookies. I know I can turn it into £1000. The most I’ve ever won is £3500, but I lost it – and yet I’ve still placed a 15p bet the next day and told myself I can win it back. Before I leave the office, I turn my phone off so Emma can’t track my location. I get why she does: I’ve lied to her loads about my whereabouts, or been caught out when I’ve gone to a pawn shop or the bookies. I feel like I’m living a double life. Constantly remembering what I’ve told people and keeping up with the lies is exhausting.
13.36: I didn’t win. By the time I walk back into the office, my heart is racing, I’m sweating and there’s a crushing feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach.
14.45: Pacing up and down in the men’s. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve escaped to the toilet today. I look in the mirror; I look awful. But this is probably easier to hide than drug or alcohol abuse. The signs are behavioral, not physical. My mental health is suffering hugely but I won’t tell anyone else – it’s too embarrassing, and I know people won’t understand. And I won’t go to the doctors, I know I’ve got a gambling problem – it’s taken so much to admit that to myself and those closest to me – but I’m not prepared to admit out loud I have mental health issues or take medication. That’s not the person I am – and I know I’ll be fine. I’m not afraid. I know I’ll find a way to sort this. I’ll play the people I need to in order to work this situation to my advantage.
15.37: My working day has gone out the window. My focus is still on trying to get hold of some money. But borrowing is even more difficult for me these days. I can’t get loan companies or sharks to send me money via bank transfer as Emma has my driving license, birth certificate and passport to stop me opening more bank accounts. I can’t risk her finding out I’ve had a relapse, I know she will – it’s a ticking time bomb. I remember there’s a ring at home – I’ll pawn it tomorrow.
17.30: Finish work and Emma WhatsApp’ed me. I haven’t replied to her last three messages. I tell her everything’s OK. It’s not OK – and we’re not OK. Last month I told her I’d kill myself if she left me. I won’t but I know that will make her stay with me. She says my addiction is a toxic disease and something I can’t control. She always says to talk to her if I gamble, and that she’ll help me but I never do. And each time I get myself out of a shit situation, it gives me the confidence to keep going. I’ve had every reason to want to stop. I’m experiencing the harm of gambling: I left uni without a degree because of it, I couldn’t get a mortgage because of it, and now my marriage is barely surviving because of it – but I’ve just not had the genuine desire to stop. Plus, nothing can stop me. I’ve closed bank accounts, I’ve tried getting exclusion from bookies, I’ve downloaded software to stop me going on online gambling sites. Mum has paid for me to go to hypnotherapy, but once I walked into reception and watched her drive off, I left and spent the money for the session on gambling. People might say the risk of loosing my marriage, or my son, should be enough to stop me but in reality – it isn’t.
18.10: Head to my second job in a pub. I’ve started working a few nights a week to help get more money. I also deliver groceries. I realise I need food so my mate in the kitchen cooks me dinner. As I eat, I check my phone – someone’s commented on a Facebook photo of me, Emma and Rory in the park last week. We look like a perfect family but behind the scenes it’s chaos. If ever I take Rory somewhere at the weekend, it’s always scheduled around the sport I’ve put bets on.
20.43: I’m so tired and the pub is busy. Can’t stop thinking and worrying that I haven’t been able to access any money today. I remember to change the passcode on my phone again so Emma can’t check anything when I’m asleep later.
23.19: Arrive home. Emma is up and we have a glass of wine. It still surprises me that I can take or leave alcohol. When I was younger and I got involved with the wrong kind people through gambling, I dabbled with drugs, but I’ve never shown signs of addiction to anything else. Emma seems fine but is asking a lot of questions about my day. The conversation is calm and I want to hold on to this feeling for as long as possible as I know within a few days a standing order will bounce and it will all kick off.
00.15: In bed. I feel beyond exhausted and hugely alone in my worry. A lot of people would say the opposite of addiction is sobriety. I’d say the opposite to addiction is connection. It’s a very lonely place. Whenever I’ve tried to explain it to those closest to me, they can’t get their head around it. They look at it though a logical lens, and say: “What the hell would possess you to take coppers from your kid’s piggy bank to gamble with? That’s evil! Why don’t you stop and think?” But in my experience of addiction, that logic doesn’t apply. It’s too powerful and destructive – it defies all logic. That’s not my thought process when I make these decisions; I don’t think like other people in those situations. But tomorrow I’ll pawn that ring and double the cash: Saturday is the best day for sports betting. I’ll sort it.