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My Gambling Journey: From Fun to Addiction to Recovery

This is a guest blog from Matt, who shares his gambling journey. He told us about his life, when gambling changed from being fun to battling a secret addiction. He shared his dark thoughts when he reached rock bottom, his recovery and the help available. Here’s Matt’s story.

Harmless fun?

My first memories of gambling were centred around the Grand National horse racing, which was on television once a year. My sister and I would play to win sweets. It seemed so simple at the time – a game of chance to determine who won a treat – and it was an exciting way for us to have fun as kids.

As I became a bit older, gambling took on a slightly different form. Playing ‘pitch and toss’ against a wall in the schoolyard was always a competitive and fun game. It wasn’t a game of chance; you had to have skill and a bit of luck to get to the top of the leaderboard.

Once I reached my teenage years, I was introduced to the world of fruit machines through my local snooker hall. Gambling in my teens was something I did for fun with my mates, and I never identified it as harmful behaviour; it was just fun!

Gambling in the adult world

After leaving school, I joined the Royal Navy and got to visit many different countries worldwide, and I got paid for it! I worked hard and got promoted, earning a good living, and I loving my job.

I stayed in many hotels around the world with my work, and a lot of them had casinos. This was my first introduction to gambling in the adult world. At this point, I gambled with friends and stuck to my limits, knowing when to stop and never chasing my losses.

A few years into my career in the Navy, I became physically unwell. After lots of tests, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. I was told this news on the day I was meant to sail with my ship to the Arctic, somewhere I’d never been. My shipmates went without me, and I was medically downgraded as being unfit to go to sea. This was life-changing for me. I was told I would be presented to a medical panel of doctors who would decide if I could continue serving in the Navy. I couldn’t accept this and became depressed and started drinking to escape the reality.

Young man smiling at camera in Navy uniform carrying a machine gun
Matt at 18 on his first foreign deployment trip to the USA on HMS Scott

Becoming addicted

When the bars, pubs and clubs closed, and I couldn’t get a drink, I realised I could carry on drinking in the casinos, so I would go there to get a drink but would also take part in the activities on offer. I’d play poker, blackjack, roulette, and slot machines.

Gambling became a way of coping with not being allowed to travel in the Navy. It turned from being something casual to something that helped me escape reality. I eventually stopped drinking, but I continued to gamble, for more than 12 hours a day sometimes. This continued for a year while I waited to be discharged from the Navy.

Reaching rock bottom

After 5 years of secretive gambling, I finally reached rock bottom. I couldn’t borrow or steal anymore. My gambling addiction made me feel ashamed, and it cast a heavy cloud over my future. I thought about taking my own life, leaving my wife and family with a huge loss and lots of unanswered questions.  

It was time to find help and I contacted the National Gambling Support Network. I began group therapy and cognitive-behavioural interventions. I had a support network that gave me hope that things would improve, and it helped me out of the darkness that had consumed me for so long. It was a matter of taking things one step at a time, resisting the urge to gamble, and gradually, my addiction started to loosen its grip.

I became a dad 10 months into my recovery, I never thought I could accomplish something so amazing. I could become a father figure and feel purpose. It’s made me realise that recovery has been worth it. I haven’t gambled now for 6 years, and I still engage with the support networks that helped me rebuild my life.

Worrying about the future

My son is 5 now and has asked for a Nintendo Switch for Christmas. I’m aware of the similarities between online gaming and gambling. Buying loot boxes that are often advertised as ‘free rewards’ and other in-game purchases. People can experience the same adrenaline with online gaming as you do when gambling, and it can be highly addictive, but they can also lose a lot of money purchasing things like this.

I’ll keep a close eye on my son’s behaviour and the time he spends on his console as he embarks on his newfound love of gaming. As a former gambling addict, I recognise the similarities it has to gaming.

Getting help

Thanks for sharing your story Matt.

Matt works for a charity called Ara Recovery 4 All, where he shares his experience and knowledge to support others. Ara Recovery 4 All is the national treatment provider for people struggling with gambling-related harms in Wales, including anyone affected by somebody else’s gambling.

If you’re worried about your own gaming or gambling behaviour or that of someone close to you, you can contact the Ara Recovery for All Gambling Service confidentially to discuss the support available. Call 0330 1340 286 or email aragamblingservice@recovery4all.co.uk. Visit their website at www.recovery4all.co.uk to find out more.

Poster advertising the services of Ara Recovery for All

Talk to Meic

If you ever need to talk more about this or anything else that’s bothering you, contact us here at Meic. Our advisers offer free and confidential information, advice and support daily between 8am and midnight. We’re someone on your side.