It was a privilege to have Matt Blanks as a recent guest on my podcast.
Matt is a recovering gambling addict, now working with BetKnowMore, a gambling charity, using his lived experience to help and support others currently suffering.
Matt’s personal journey is powerful, and I want to share some of the podcast conversation here.
“I used to work in the betting shops for 16 years. That was my background. During that time, I struggled with a gambling addiction for the best part of 20 years. I was 11 years old when I was first exposed to gambling. My mum and dad were going through a divorce, and at that age, I found it really tough not being able to talk about my emotions and my feelings.
My dad moved out of the family home and he moved in with his dad, my granddad.
My grandad bet on the horses and he asked me to pick a horse and at 11 years old, I didn't have a clue what I was doing and just picked a name. And you know what happened? My horse won at thirty four to one and my granddad won on it.
He gave me twenty pounds! Instantly my first experience of gambling at a young and difficult time in my life was a reward. And it kind of started from there.
Over the years I got in deep, that I was borrowing money, taking out credit cards and loans. I got bailout after bailout from family members and told them, this is the last time I won't do it again.
It cost me relationships with my mum and my brother, which I still haven't got back to this day. I lost a few friends along the way and other relationships. I’ve got two children, 7 and 9, and the relationship with their mum broke down because of my gambling.
I had to move out of my family home, and I wasn't there to see my children every day. I was working long hours in the betting shop and just became very isolated. My gambling spiralled out of control. My mental health took a real turn for the worst, and I attempted suicide because I just couldn't see a way out.
So that was really the rock bottom. And it was at that point that I knew I really needed help.
So I reached out to a gambling operator. That first phone call that I had was just a massive relief. Just having someone to talk to that I knew had gone through it and really understood me and wasn't going to judge me. It's a game changer,
Everyone thinks of gambling as associated with money and it isn't just about money.
It's such a complex issue. Gambling addiction. There is normally always a reason behind why people gamble.
Money isn't the only impact that gambling addiction has. It totally consumes you. If you're not actually doing the activity of gambling, then you're thinking about gambling and you're thinking about how you can get hold of more money.
You miss family engagements. You don't see friends because you haven't got money. You're essentially living a double life because there's no physical signs like drugs and alcohol. You can present as normal on the outside, but inside is absolute chaos. Unfortunately, there is a high suicide rate attached to gambling, whether that be through suicide attempts or, unfortunately, death by suicide.
People don't talk about their addiction, but things to look out for in a person are mood swings, being tired, talking about gambling, maybe big wins. Talking about money a lot, asking when payday is or, even borrowing money.
I used to always post on Facebook about the big wins. I never posted how much I lost. And if you looked at my timeline, you’d think I was a millionaire!. No one knew the extent of damage because people just talk about the wins.
These are all red flags. These are all potential warning signs to look out for that someone could be struggling with their gambling.
We should be looking out for people that we engage with every day. Our colleagues, friends, families. These are indicators that we can pick up from other people, then start that conversation.
It's just asking that question – “Is everything OK?”
And someone might not be ready at that time. But if you've normalised the conversation, maybe when someone gets into a bit of trouble further down the line, they think, I can actually go and talk to this person because they did try and open up a conversation before.
It’s also about being able to signpost. The National Problem Gambling Helpline is a service that runs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Someone struggling can pick up the phone and talk to someone or they can use the chatline on their website.
I would say to anyone that is listening and is struggling, to reach out for help.
The first conversation is sometimes the most difficult. But once you've got that out of the way, you've actually spoken to someone and you know that there is help and support, it moves on from there.
I wish I’d reached out a lot sooner than I actually did.
I speak to a lot of people in recovery that say the same thing because generally you have to hit rock bottom before you reach out for help.
A life in recovery is amazing and it is possible. I never thought it was possible, but now I'm living proof that it is.”
You can listen to the whole podcast episode on Apple podcast, Spotify, other podcast platforms or here.