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Student Gambling: How to Identify and Manage a Gambling Addiction

By Chloe Lane

Updated March 1, 2021 Updated March 1, 2021

The inconsistency of university life, especially with the new added pressure of COVID-19, can mean that university can be an incredibly daunting and lonely experience. As a result, many students turn to gambling.

Gambling is very common amongst university students. A survey by the UK’s National Health Service found that 47 percent of students in the UK have gambled in the last 12 months and that one in ten students have used some or all of their student loan to gamble.

Gambling education charity YGAM (the Young Gamers and Gamblers Education Trust) revealed that an incredible 88,000 students in the UK are defined as problem gamblers, with half of the students who have accrued debt having in excess of £1,000 (approximately US$1,295).

Admitting to having a gambling addiction can be incredibly difficult. It’s common to feel guilty, ashamed and embarrassed of the problem.

We spoke to UK gambling psychotherapist, Liz Karter, to find out how you can spot the signs of a gambling addiction.

Katie Reynolds-Jones from GAMSTOP, the leading gambling exclusion service in the UK, also revealed some practical steps students can take to manage a gambling problem.

Why do students start gambling? 

Why do students start gambling?

Homesickness and the need for escapism

Homesickness is often a key factor in why students start gambling and “gambling is often used as a distraction from their thoughts and feelings,” revealed Karter.

Seeking distraction and escapism is particularly prominent for students at the moment. COVID-19 has meant that many students, particularly international students, are being forced to self-isolate in their student accommodation and are only able to socialize online or within their halls of residence. 

“For some people who are feeling a bit scared or sad or even a bit angry and frustrated about their situation, being alone with your thoughts can feel like torture,” said Karter.

Karter explained that one of her clients, an introverted student, developed a gambling problem while seeking escapism from university. He liked to be in his room and, looking for something to do, started gambling. 

As in the case of this client, Karter explained that students often use gambling as a “means to mentally and emotionally escape the situation [they] feel trapped in”.

Managing money

For many students, starting university is the first time they’ve had to handle such a large sum of money. When your student loan comes in, it’s tempting to go on a spending spree. All of this excess money leads to students trying gambling for the first time.

“Part of the appeal of online gambling is losing touch with reality. Somebody can very easily lose touch with how much money they’ve spent until there’s no money left and the card’s refused,” explained Karter. She added that students get caught in a cycle of trying to win that money back. 

How casual gambling can lead to addiction

How casual gambling leads to addiction

Karter warns that all forms of gambling are potentially very addictive, but online gambling is more likely to appeal to students.

“For most students [online gambling is] accessible. It's easily hidden. Most students are digital natives. They've grown up with social media and they've grown up with gaming, so this is a familiar world. And the familiar is comforting,” she said.

There are two types of gambling addiction: those who are addicted to the rush of the win and those who are looking for escapism.

The rush of the win

For some students, it’s the sense of excitement that comes with the anticipation of a win that makes gambling so addictive. Karter describes the feeling as similar to sending a message to someone you’re trying to get a date with and waiting for their reply. The win itself, she describes, is like “an extreme feeling of elation”, or “feeling invincible”.

On the other end of the scale is the loss. “So, somebody will keep gambling, not just for another win but for how they feel when they get that win so they're chasing that winning feeling as much as the money,” said Karter. 

When eventually they lose, compared to that feeling of elation, they experience a great crushing low. “It felt like somebody had punched me in the stomach. I felt sick. I felt panic stricken and I was really down,” one of Karter’s clients explained to her. 

In search of recovering this good feeling, a cycle of addiction begins, featuring these highs and lows. 

The escapism

When students use gambling for escapism, the form of gambling they choose is very simple and repetitive – things like slot machines or bingo. 

These repetitive types of gambling can feel very familiar and comforting. “That in itself becomes very addictive because it's calming and it's soothing. By comparison, the real world feels even harsher,” said Karter. 

Several of Karter’s clients enjoyed a lot of gaming before university. “It's very similar psychology,” explained Karter, “Just add money and you've got the escapism of a gambling addiction. You go into a virtual world where you can be the character you want to be.”

How do you know if you’re developing a gambling addiction?

How do you know if you’re developing a gambling addiction?

If you’re experiencing any of these signs, you may have a gambling problem:

  • A strong preoccupation with gambling
  • A loss of interest in things that you used to like, such as calling home, seeing your friends, interest in your studies
  • Spending unaffordable amounts of money
  • Spending a large portion of time gambling

How to get help

How to get help

There are several practical steps you should take if you believe you may have, or are developing, a gambling problem.

1. Block your account

Block your account

The first thing to do is to block your online gambling account. GAMSTOP is a free service that allows you to exclude yourself from all online UK licenced gambling websites. More than 24,000 people in the 16-24 age group have registered with GAMSTOP since the scheme started in April 2018.

“There are other [gambling blocking] schemes around the world,” said Katie Reynolds-Jones, head of marketing and communications at GAMSTOP. “They often operate using national ID numbers and they’re almost always state run.

Gamban, which is the blocking software that blocks devices is a global app which can also be used across the world.”

Reynolds-Jones advises students to use GAMSTOP alongside other gambling blocking software to prevent relapse. 

“Even though students may make a rational decision that they want to stop, they're still going to experience cravings,” warned Karter. 

GAMSTOP blocks all UK-licensed online gambling sites for a period of six months, one year or five years depending on what the user prefers.

In addition, Reynolds-Jones suggests students use device blocking software, where you block each of your devices from the websites.

Many banks, including Monzo and Barclays also offer transactional blocking software, where you can block debit cards for gambling websites and casinos.

If you’re someone who usually goes to bookmakers, local arcades, bingo halls and casinos in person - the so-called land-based forms of gambling - you should seek out multi operator schemes. 

In the UK, MOSES (Multi Operator Self Exclusion Scheme) gives you the option to deny yourself entry to local land-based gambling sites.  This scheme is based on facial recognition, so if you sign up to the scheme, a picture of yourself will be shared all local gambling betting shops to prevent you from entering.

SENSE (Self-Enrolment National Self-Exclusion) is a similar website which allows you to exclude yourself from any land-based casino in your area. 

2. Seek professional help

Seek professional help

Although putting a blocker on gambling websites and signing up for self-exclusion should take away your ability to gamble, these resources will not take away your desire to gamble, warned Karter. 

“There are some very good charities out there who offer counselling. These days, most reputable services offer online counselling,” Karter said.

GamCare

If you’re looking for professional help, one of the first places you should go is GamCare, GamCare are the leading provider of support in the UK for anyone affected by a gambling problem.

GamCare offer a range of confidential treatments, including a 24-hour phone helpline, a live chatline, a group text chatline and a forum to help you find the help you need. They also offer face to face support across the UK.

Call GamCare’s National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133.

Visit the live chat here.

YGAM

YGAM have also launched a new student hub website, which provides a range of resources to raise awareness of student gambling and offers support pages for students struggling with gambling problems.

GAMSTOP

GAMSTOP offer a wide list of sources of support and advice for students seeking practical, emotional and debt support. 

3. Focus on helping yourself

Focus on helping yourself

Breaking the habit of gambling can be tough. Karter said: “People describe to me physical symptoms. They get stomach aches, they get headaches, they feel sick, they can't sleep. They experience the types of withdrawal we might imagine and understand with drugs or alcohol. 

“During that period, they need lots and lots of healthy distraction and lots of encouragement from friends and family.”

Alongside blocking yourself from gambling websites and seeking professional help, there are several things you can do to help yourself.

Replacing the high

For those students who got addicted to the rush of gambling and chasing the high, try something that gets your blood pumping and your adrenaline levels up, suggested Karter. 

“Try running or going to the gym as a replacement for gambling,” she said. “It’ll give you a mood lift again but in a healthy way” 

Finding a healthy escapism

Students who used gambling to help a difficult or overwhelming situation, other traditional forms of escapism, such as getting under the duvet and bingeing a familiar box set, can really work well as a gambling replacement. 

“Escapism is fine, we’ve just got to choose healthy things,” said Karter. 

This article was originally published in October 2020 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

As Content Editor for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com, Chloe creates and publishes a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. Chloe has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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