"The thought of being alive without gambling was worse than not being alive" - the hidden horror of addiction

On a good day Chris Murphy had a £1000 betting stake, on a bad day he was scrabbling behind the sofa looking for 50p.

All that mattered to him was placing a bet that day.

He likened the feeling to "hell on earth" and having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.

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Chris, now 33, had lived like this for six years until it got to the point where he felt the "walls were closing in" and he tried to take his own life.

Chris Murphy.

In a shocking, honest and frank account he tells the Yorkshire Evening Post his story and his battle with gambling addiction in the hope that it might help others battling with the same problem.

It is a situation that for many gamblers will have worsened under lockdown and despite quick-fire legislation banning gambling ads during recent weeks, more needs to be done to help remove the risks of online gambling.

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When he was 17 he was, like many other young men, hanging around with mates, playing football and going to the pub. Before games, his mates would go to the bookies but he had no interest in it. Until one time he asked them about it. They showed him how to place a bet and with a £2 stake he ended up winning £350 on a football accumulator.

Within weeks he was addicted to gambling and had dropped out of college because betting had taken over.

He said: "The problem tended not to be sport. It was when I moved to electronic gaming. Fruit machines, terminals at the bookies, sometimes casinos. At that time it was physical. Being able to play the same games online that I did at terminals is the most dangerous form of gambling. Every time I have relapsed it has been when I have built things up, built up finances, had access to credit cards, pay day loans. No limits, high stakes, fast paced - I would lose everything every time."

But he was always able to hide the extent to which the problem had developed. His mother knew there was an issue and he says she has tried to help in all different ways over the years. He agreed to let her take him to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting when he was 18 but he admits it was to please her - "I was not interested in stopping."

"I would bet £1000 if I had won. Other days I would be searching down the back of the sofa for 50 pence to put on an accumulator. I depended on it like a substance. I had to have some sort of bet to play.

"It was all or nothing. In the early days it was easier, I was able to get credit. As years went on I deferred payments so did cash in hand jobs to get money at the end."

When he was 23, Chris tried to take his own life when he had amassed so much debt he felt "the walls were closing in".

"It was not to financial companies. It was debt to people. Some of them family and friends, people you don't want to be in debt to. I had never taken responsibility or looked at my financial situation. My life was going nowhere, no job, no education. I did not feel a life I was supposed to be living.

"Looking back at the realisation that I knew I had to stop - the thought of being alive without gambling was worse than the thought of not being alive."

Chris decided to play everything he had on another bet and thought if he won, he could pay everyone back and it would all be fine.

He lost everything and took tablets.

Fortunately it didn't work and for the next 18 months he didn't gamble because of how painful that situation had been, but he says that wasn't a long term or sustainable approach to recovery.

He relapsed and stopped and relapsed again and the times between each would get shorter, 18 months, a year, nine months until it was every three months.

In 2018 it came to a head again where he says he thought, "I will never be free of this, what's the point".

However, rather than another suicide attempt, he picked up the phone.

He made contact with Gamblers Anonymous, the NHS, the 12 step meetings and started to see a psychiatrist where for the first time looked at the root issue behind his gambling and "addictive personality".

While he didn't have an alcohol addiction, Chris stopped drinking as it sometimes went hand in hand with gambling and for more than 500 days he has been drink and gambling free. He lives in a flat in Headingley and has a full time job.

For the first time in years he says he feels positive about the future, but is worried for those who gamble purely online and the effects that has on mental health - especially during lockdown.

He said: "I don't think there is another addiction where you can have such a massive impact in one sitting. It is terrifying thinking it is completely on-line. It is completely in secret. Keeping it hidden is what escalates people's depression and suicidal thoughts."

He also credits GAMSTOP, a national online self-exclusion service which allows anyone who has a problem with gambling to exclude themselves from all online sites for up to five years, with his on-going recovery.

It is based in Harrogate and has more than 138,000 vulnerable individuals registered with the service since its launch in April 2018.

Chris adds: "I have a strong recovery programme behind me. I have a mentor I cam chat to a couple of times a week, online meetings. Being able to speak to people that understand. First and foremost there is the treatment but as a safety net I have protective barriers with GAMSTOP.

"I feel very hopeful and I have never felt that and I have felt like that for a year. It is likely that I won't gamble again and that is a big statement and I take it a day at a time. I haven't felt the need to gamble in the last 16 months. I have wanted to but not needed to and there is a difference. I feel confident that as long as I have the things I do, it will remain that way and the possibilities are endless."

To self-exclude from online gambling in the UK visit: https://www.gamstop.co.uk/

If you need advice and support you can call the National gambling helpline on 08088020133.

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James Mitchinson

Editor