‘Everything other than gambling got in my way . . . It became absolutely everything’

‘I got to a point where the thing driving my life was something I could not fight’

Michael doesn’t talk about his gambling addiction much anymore. “The difference between the life I live now and the life I led before going for treatment for my addiction are worlds apart. I am a very different individual. I am private, content, happy and live quite a mundane but very content existence, which is the exact reverse of the life I had before.”

Growing up on the outskirts of Dublin, Michael had a "very content family existence". He says that there was nothing that would have paved his way to addiction. His childhood was not difficult. He did well at school. He did, however, come from a family "who are on the periphery of being quite well-known in terms of sporting life in Ireland. Obviously, in Ireland, there is a focus on horse racing and gambling, so I was exposed to that from an early age, but it was only a bit of fun at the weekend."

His father was an alcoholic, Michael says, and having any addiction in your past can make it about 30 per cent more likely that you will confront addiction yourself. But his father gave up drinking before Michael can remember and his siblings were never attracted to gambling.

He has been exposed to the same things, he has just made different choices, he says.


Michael does think that he is "vulnerable to addiction" though and during his time in the Rutland Centre – a private addiction rehabilitation centre in Dublin – where he was resident for five weeks, he decided to give up alcohol. "I didn't go in there with the intention of addressing an alcohol addiction, but I did come out thinking not drinking alcohol would be a better choice for me."

It had to be instant. If it wasn't, I wasn't interested

Gambling became a problem for Michael in his late 30s, he says. He always had a "good job and a good career" and by his late 20s he was living and working in Portugal. He had a partner and they went on to have a daughter, however he was "becoming more and more interested in online gambling".

“It started with betting on horse racing, which developed into football, then other sports. It became absolutely everything. It had to be instant. If it wasn’t, I wasn’t interested.

“The highs that came from it were relatively good at times, but the lows were terrible because, like most gamblers, you lose more often than you win. The lows were extremely low and they were affecting my behaviour. I was depressed. I was taking prescription drugs such as diazepam and that led me down a road that was very complicated.”

Soon, Michael wasn’t leaving the house at all. He was getting up at about 4.30am and playing online poker. He would gamble all day until his partner and daughter got home. By then he would have lost all his money.

Gambling was his priority.

“Everything other than gambling got in my way, so I would just get that done.” Michael would get his relationship “done” and get his partner and daughter out the door for work and school. “I was working from home. I could usually get the work for my job done within an hour or two which freed up the rest of the day. I wasn’t doing a very good job, but I was getting it done, so I could do the things that I wanted to do.”

He would go away to other countries to work and make the money he needed to gamble. But the pressure got too much and in 2011 Michael tried to take his own life. “I was depressed. I was living abroad. I was working abroad when I attempted to take my own life so I was committed to a lunatic asylum abroad.”

I couldn't hide it from [my family] any longer

But it was not the short, sharp shock he needed. Michael’s behaviour didn’t change and it would be another year before his family became aware that he had gone back to gambling. “I couldn’t hide it from them any longer,” he says.

In 2012, Michael’s brother and sister intervened and booked him on a flight back to Ireland and into the Rutland Centre. He was interviewed to see if he was ready.

“It was so tough, but I don’t look back on any time more kindly. I’m really proud of where I’ve got to because it’s a really tough thing to do. I had come to a point in my life where the thing that was driving my life was something I could not fight.”

Michael stayed in the centre for six weeks. “I had zero contact with anyone else except for on a Sunday. In 2012, when I was there, I had TV for a couple of hours on a Saturday and Sunday, but no mobiles, no computer. You had an hour with family on a Sunday afternoon and the concerned parents’ days on a Tuesdays.”

The group at the house takes 16 people only and changes constantly, he says.

He now has a good job in England and has separated from his partner, but still sees his 11 year-old daughter for a week every month.

Has he ever been tempted to gamble? “Every single day,” says Michael. “I would find it difficult to believe anyone who says otherwise.”He points out that you don’t need to believe in a god to use the 12-steps programme used by Gamblers Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups dealing with addiction. He says that the 12-step programme is indeed driven by a higher power, but says that a higher power “can be something physical, it can be a person, it can be a memory. It is nothing more than the thing you relate to give you the strength and support to move forward.

“I had my own higher power the whole way through this, but it was nothing that would have meant anything to anybody else. In my case it was merely a particular memory relating to myself and my daughter. That was my higher power.

It is a different world to the one I was living in five years ago. It is a world that is simple, stable and happy

“I wouldn’t want to think that people might get caught up in the thought that it has to be a god. It doesn’t. It has everything to do with what gives you strength then when you are going through something difficult, you can take a step back and let it pass and that urge will pass over you and you will be better.”

Michael is glad he faced and ended his gambling addiction.

“The difference between the life I live now and the one I lived then. Every word that came out of my mouth was a lie or an exaggeration of some kind. I needed people to like me. I take no prescription drugs now. I don’t suffer from anxiety attacks, which I did for 15 years. I can walk into a room and talk to anyone. It is a different world to the one I was living in five years ago. It is a world that is simple, stable and happy.”

If you are concerned that you or someone you care about has a problem with gambling, see problemgambling.ie, gamblersanonymous.ie and rutlandcentre.ie

Anthea McTeirnan

Anthea McTeirnan

Anthea McTeirnan is an Irish Times journalist