Limerick addiction: 'Gambling took everything from me – and nearly took my life'

A reformed gambler and Saoirse client, 35, speaks about the road to recovery

Anne Sheridan


Anne Sheridan

'Gambling took everything from me – and very nearly took my life'

For Jay, a father of three, the lure of horse racing in particular proved the greatest thrill and his downfall

“GAMBLING took absolutely everything from me, bar my life and it very nearly took that.

I was gambling since I was about 16 and I was just hooked on it straight away. As the years went by, the bets were getting bigger. Then I started borrowing money, lying to people, all this madness followed. 

The bets started small - fivers, tenners, and then grew into large four-figure sums, and there was a progression from horse racing, onto dogs, in bookies at 9 o'clock in the morning, dodging work, and then online gambling at night. 

I was missing family, having no money for food, making up numerous lies, deceit, everything.

I've often said it - I'd much rather be an alcoholic or a drug addict, because there's only so much you can drink, or your body can take. 

Whereas with gambling, it was just a case of writing how many zeros you wanted onto a betting docket.

Your head would be all over the place. It's hard to explain. It just felt like madness and carnage.

I remember when I was 11 smoking a cigarette and I never touched it again. But when I did that first bet - it was €11 - and I got €200 back, that was it.

I dodged school the next morning to collect the money. It felt so easy. It was always about money.

My home life was hugely affected, with no money for food, bills, oil running out. I have three small kids, two still in nappies, who I wasn't there for.

I just blanked them out. When I got paid every Thursday, all I thought about was the bookies, before I even thought about anything else.

You might double your money, then you'd want to double it again, and you'd walk out the door with nothing.

Horse racing was a drug because it was fast. I don't think I ever better on a soccer match, because at 90 minutes it just didn't do it for me.

A horse could feature my son's name, and that was another draw. I'd have to go for that. I had no control over it. It controls you.

I'd never go to Cheltenham because I wouldn't spend the money travelling there - I'd prefer to spend it on the horses.

To me a compulsive gambler is like a snooker player - I was always thinking four or five shots ahead.

I was working the whole time, but I don't know how I managed to hold down a job. They have been super to me. 

My partner was oblivious to it all, because I told her initially that I was addressing my gambling problem.

I was off it for 15 months and went to the shop and got a €1 scratch card and eventually I was back into the same pattern again, in a downward spiral.

In 2003 I went to a treatment centre in Ennis to get some help, but I wasn't ready for it, and came back out and started gambling again. I was in and out of going to meetings for years.

Last August it just came to a head. I was up to my eyes in debt, avoiding people. On a particular day I decided this was going to be it - I was going to take my life. All my channels of borrowing money had dried up, and there was rent due on the house.

I thought I'd go into Limerick city and make the money back. I lost the money, came off on the bus, and that was it. I sent a note to my partner, my brother, and told them that 'I'm sorry, but you'd be better off without me'.

I rang my workplace, spoke to my HR manager and said ‘If there is anything due to me, please pass it to my partner or my kids’. 

She said ‘Wait there, I'm coming for you. We'll talk through it.’ That was the first time I heard of Saoirse. I did the initial six-week programme, another recovery six-week programme, and I'm in after-care now. My life has completely changed for the better in the past six months.

I was in a dark hole, with no light. I could see nothing. I felt isolated. Everything was gone - my self worth, even my hygiene, my mental health. When you're losing you don't want to talk to anyone.

When I came in here, it gave me hope, and a platform of what I need to do, where I need to be, staying away from certain places.

I was ready for it this time. I went to GA meetings [Gambling Anonymous] and it felt like a battle the whole time. This addiction, this disease was a war, and every time I felt that I had to put my hand up and surrender to the war. 

Saoirse have been unbelievably helpful. You know you can pick up the phone at any time of the day and they will be there. It gives me a structure in life too - of what reality is; goals I want to set out. Whereas before, there was none of that. My life was just dominated by gambling. 

I owe a lot of people money, and still am massively in debt, to the tune of about €40,000, and I've rang them all and explained the situation. 

My friends, family, Saoirse, my work - they have all stood by me, and I have to thank them for that.

I know that I'm no different to anyone else that walks in here. For anyone reading this, there is loads of help there, but the first step is admitting that you have a problem.

There are five gambling meetings on a week that I can go to. I remember my brother saying to me after the first meeting I went to, 'This is your medicine'. If you were out sick in the Regional Hospital and told to take a tablet every day, you'd take it. To me, this is my medicine.

Sometimes it's just a brief thought that comes into your head. You have to flick that switch, by calling someone, going for a walk, trying to change your mood.

You have to picture looking in your own front window six months ago, and look at it today. The same goes for work. This will be for the rest of my life - going to Saoirse, going to my aftercare meetings. There's a full room any night, anything up to 20 people.

Gambling is absolutely everywhere now, and no one seems to be addressing it. You wouldn't keep feeding a man drink if he was asleep at the counter. Everyone has a picture of seeing Vegas and being drawn to the lights - a bookmakers' is the same thing. 

I was hiding everything for so long, and it this could reach one person, that would be worth it. Now I can sleep at night, without waking up in a cold sweat or having a nightmare.”

- See the weekend editions of the Limerick Leader for a two page news feature on addiction in Limerick