North East addict says betting is 'legal crack cocaine' in region home to most at risk gamblers

According to the Betting and Gaming Council around 22.5 million adults have a bet each month. Credit: PA

A gambler who tried to end his life when his addiction spiralled out of control has said it is a "legalised version of crack cocaine".

Chris, who only wants to be known by his first name, has equated his love of gambling as similar to an affair, describing every day as a "war with himself".

It emerged earlier this year that the North East had the highest number of "at risk" gamblers in England, according to the NHS.

Despite having attempted to take his own life, Chris started gambling again a few months later.

He said: "I thought that was the end of it for the gambling side, but no the compulsion came back.

"My girlfriend was like 'have you been gambling' and I was like 'no, no I haven't,' but I knew I had. I was covering the addiction, I just wanted it to stop.

"My rock bottom wasn't death but when I got kicked out my own home, I then had to go back to my family and tell them everything. That was the worst case for me and to this day I hold onto that feeling."

Chris added: "I get up everyday and I'm at war against myself. That's the reason I don't gamble to this day."

According to the Betting and Gaming Council around 22.5 million adults have a bet each month, whether that is on racing, buying a lottery ticket, playing bingo or casino games, or betting on sports.

Sunderland has one of three specialist gambling clinics in the north, and is the only one in the North East.

Those working there want gambling to be brought in line with the tobacco and alcohol industries, as the cost of treating a gambling addiction can reach more than £960million each year.

Dr Matthew McCourt is a psychologist working at the centre and said: "The help that we provide works, right from the first initial enquiries.

"There's constant support there and something we say as a service all the time is we're always at the end of a phone call or end of an email."

The cost of living is having an unexpected impact and is increasing demand for centre services as those under financial pressure are more likely to gamble in order to get an elusive big win.

"We are seeing disproportionate harm to communities who are more socially stressed," said Dr Matt Gaskell, a consultant psychologist.

He added that it was "where gambling might be seen as more attractive as a way of improving their life circumstances".

"Online gambling has transformed everything," he continued. "My service users are gambling in the shower, while they are driving, they're gambling at work.

"What they see on their screens and social media is often something that's glamorised or endorsed by celebrities.

"There's almost no public health messaging about gambling. There's nothing to inform the public about the risks and harms associated with it."

Dr Gaskell is working with the government to try and tighten gambling restrictions.

Government proposals to reform gambling laws were due to be published last week. That has now been delayed until a new prime minister is in place.

The Gambling Commission has said "one problem gambler is one too many" and have pledged an extra £100 million pounds for research, education and treatment services. This will be administered through the charity GambleAware.

It added that only 0.2% of the population are problem gamblers down from 0.4% in 2021.

Chris told ITV News Tyne Tees that he was continuing to battle his addiction.

He said: "To this day I still get emails in my junk folder. My next bet will be my death. I know if I had another bet it would finish me off."

If you have been affected by anything you have read you can get support with gambling here.

Or find help from the Samaritans here.

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