Combined addiction to cocaine and gambling 'the big issue in Ireland', claims counsellor

Irish Examiner
 
Combined addiction to cocaine and gambling 'the big issue in Ireland', claims counsellor
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Dual addiction to cocaine and online gambling is now “the big issue in Ireland” and is devastating lives, a leading addiction counsellor has said.

Michael Guerin has seen an eight-fold increase in women seeking treatment for gambling addiction in just four years in the Cuan Mhuire addiction treatment centre while there has been a 20-fold increase in people seeking treatment for gambling and drug or alcohol addiction in that time. 

International research shows that people with gambling addictions are 15 times more likely to die by suicide. Mr Guerin called for specialist gambling addiction treatment centres to specifically target and treat the growing numbers of people in Ireland with this nuanced problem.

“The big issue in Ireland is the co-existence of cocaine abuse and problematic gambling amongst young people. It’s absolutely devastating,” Mr Guerin said. “When people get high on cocaine they get this false sense of bravado and they tend to be more daring in their exploits where online gambling is concerned.

Problem gambling can lead to catastrophic financial situations, but the mental health implications are even more detrimental, he said.

“People become highly anxious, very depressed. Suicidal thoughts and suicidal ideation is very big around gambling. And the suicide rate amongst compulsive gamblers is extremely high.” 

The rapid onset of gambling addiction sets it apart from other addictions, he said. While people with drug or alcohol dependence tend to develop dependence over some time, in gambling, that compulsive behaviour can take over people’s lives incredibly quickly, he said.

And there is no upper limit in gambling. Money is the only limitation, there are physical limitations that people using drink and drugs have that they can’t override.

“A gambler can gamble the whole lot in one afternoon. So you have this rapid cycling, rapid onset phenomenon with gambling that you don’t necessarily have with substance misuse disorders,” Mr Guerin said.

“And it’s very associated with sport. The amount of opportunities that have been provided to people to bet on online apps during sporting events is crazy. So it’s constantly in your face.” 

Regulation

Mr Guerin welcomed recent efforts to better regulate the gambling industry. The Gambling Regulation Bill aims to overhaul gambling regulation, advertising and licensing and to establish a new regulator, the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland. 

Although it has not been passed into law yet, Government hopes the bill will come into force this year and a CEO Designate of the Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland, Anne Marie Caulfield, has already been appointed.

“They’re bringing a number of safeguards in around things like regulations around gambling advertising. That’s good, but there’s this whole quagmire of internet space out there that might not fall under the remit of Irish regulation and legislation.

“And there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of education and prevention on one hand. And we’ll need specialist centres of excellence where individuals with gambling addictions will be treated appropriately.

“We are using solutions for the treatment of alcohol and drug problems on people who have gambling addictions, and every addiction is nuanced."

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