AO Gambling Stigma

Shame and self-stigma cause harm in themselves

Stigma and discrimination contribute to people feeling guilt, self-blame, self-hate, and shame. People experience intense negative feelings about themselves because they have gambling difficulties. They start to think that the stereotypes about ‘gamblers’ are true of them. This shame and self-stigma are damaging to people’s mental health and well-being. People often decide not to seek help as a result of these feelings. The experience of discrimination and stigma also harms mental well-being. Taken together, all these factors make the addiction and harm even more severe. People can become suicidal. In this way, stigma kills.

People have explained they feel shame and self-blame about their gambling but also about things that have happened because of their gambling. They feel that their behaviour is out of character and goes against who they are as a person. People’s self-worth suffers dramatically.

A few months into my recovery, I found a lump on my head and I got cancer, but I always say in my meetings, this is by far the worst illness on the planet. This is worse than cancer, in my opinion. I’m not knocking cancer, having gone through it myself, I’m not knocking it in any shape or form, but this one, only you can stop it. If you get cancer or any other illness, you got doctors to help you, get you better, but with this, it’s all mental, it’s all you. It takes your spirit away from you. Cancer didn’t take my spirit, but gambling did. It made me feel worthless like I wasn’t valued.

What I describe it as you feel grubby about yourself because you’re lying to people, you’re doing something that doesn’t make you feel very good, so you’re getting up in the morning and, “I don’t like me. What have I become?” People think you’re one thing but on the inside it’s like you’re rotting away and you don’t like yourself. It’s like there’s an element of anger or self-hate. Lots of people say to me, “Yes, yes, I completely get that self-harm because it’s like I’ll win but I’m going to lose it all.” The amounts of money that you use out there. I think it’s the lies you tell, the behaviours that it creates.
I try to talk to people that you’re still this person that’s good and got these good elements and qualities about them but it’s your behaviours that are not reflecting who you are but it’s amazing where it will take you. I don’t know. It just creates so much damage and destruction, not for everybody but for the people that– Most people would look at me and go, “you of all people but no, not you,”” and half an hour later they were, “I still can’t believe that you did that.”


Feeling bad about themselves can lead people to believe that they do not have the ability to do anything about the situation they are in. Also, they want to avoid anyone knowing what is happening. People fear they will be judged, rejected or discriminated against and use secrecy to protect themselves. As a result, people are stuck in a desperate cycle of gambling, followed by terrible feelings, followed by more gambling. People often avoid telling anyone until they have ‘hit rock bottom’ or are ‘found out’.

I hid away for a decent period of time without really seeing anyone that was internal stigma without a shadow of a doubt because I was terrified of what people would say to me by me saying the reason that I’ve lost me house and that I’m in the trouble that I’m in and that I’ve had to move back to my parents at 47 and that I don’t have anything left anymore is because I couldn’t stop putting money on Chinese basketball. I’ve already answered that question to myself by saying, “First of all, you sound like a moron. You’re not a daft guy. Why could you not make that decision to do it?” That would be an internal stigma without a shadow of a doubt because I’m already answering the question or already giving me the feedback that I’m expecting to get back from somebody. I’ve got to say Liz it wasn’t true. Once I plucked up the courage and able to then tell people, which then became another interesting door to open for me because I couldn’t stop telling people about it then.


I would emphasise that when you bury something, it’s not in the light. When you bring it into the light, it can be dealt with. You know, it can be dealt with. But when you bury it, it just manifests and manifests and the danger from that, the shame, you know, it’s what it does to your mental health, really and your relationships. You know, I’ve done things to people that, you know, as a 14-year-old boy, my mother would have said to me no, that’s impossible. You know, I’ve done things to people that, you know, are shameful, shameful, shameful things

But certainly, with gambling everybody feels the shame. You know, when you’re in it, it doesn’t matter who you are. I felt shocking shame and an inability to speak up and speak out because the worry of what that might bring, you know, that the embarrassment factor as well. Will that cost me my relationship, which might then cost me my house. Which might mean then if I have to go bankrupt as a police officer, as I was for years, and years would I then be allowed to continue as a police officer. Can I speak up at work and say that I’m experiencing this problem, this addiction, because I’ve got massive financial problems, because then would that then prevent me from applying for certain roles within the police where there might be a significant amount of cash handled, for example. So, you’ve got this type of shame, which all then inhibits your ability to be able to speak up and speak out.


Many people end up becoming suicidal. Having gambling difficulties causes them to feel such shame and humiliation, they can not face other people. They can feel like they are a burden and that other people would be better off without them. They feel helpless, that they do not deserve help and that no-one will be able to help them. The sense of being trapped in gambling with no way out can become so great, that suicide feels like the only escape.

It turns you into someone you’re not and keeps you there until you’ve got nothing left. At that point, being back to your normal self, you then try and rebuild your life. When you’re doing it, time and time again, it can drag you down mentally and physically. That’s when people start committing suicide and having suicidal thoughts because they can’t see a way out. The person that they’ve become is someone that they don’t want to be and never thought they would be… They think it’s best that they just commit suicide and be done with it rather than speak to people.

I remember sitting in my chair and it was just, what do I do now? There is no getting out, getting away with this. There’s no hiding this. This is really bad. At that point, I thought I’m just going to jump out of the window. I’m just going to jump out of the window before anybody can even see it. Before anybody can even see what I’ve done. I was too ashamed, too embarrassed, too guilty, everything. It was just everything was finished really in my head. It was that’s it.

People have said their recovery is often complicated by having to deal with the shame and damage to their self-worth.

Gambling, I find, is the hardest one to get the brain round and work with. As I said earlier on, I talk about it all the time, I chat about it. When it’s alcohol-driven, I can understand it, but the gambling drive, I don’t always get it. Sometimes I can see it coming or feel it coming, but it creeps up. Like if the sun pops out today, I know that I’m probably going to want to have a drink, but the gambling might pop up because I stubbed my toe randomly and now suddenly I have this rage and drive to go and gamble. It creeps up so suddenly, the gambling, and I’m learning to see cues for it and understand it, but I just find gambling, it hides away deeper than the other addictions, it pops its head up at more random times than the other addictions. Then when it does pop its head up, it makes you feel straight away embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, even though you’re only thinking about it, you feel like you’re doing something horribly wrong. Whereas if I was to, I would feel horribly if I went and had a drink, but if I think about having a drink, I then talk to myself, get that thought out of my head and move on. Whereas if I think about gambling, I’ve got to try and deal with feeling awful, feeling terrible, feeling guilty, all of that. Just that’s just from the thought of gambling. That’s where I find gambling is so hard for people to, in general, talk about and try and understand. I think understanding it is so, so difficult.


For me, my mental health, at the time of gambling, I thought I was okay when I was gambling, because it was distortion. And when really, I was not. I was not okay at all. I was just going further and further down a hole. Coming out of gambling, my mental health has suffered in so many ways through loss and what gambling was taken away from me, and that is time with my family, rejection, shame, guilt. And I have to deal with all of this on a day-to-day basis. I have to get myself out of bed and try and tell myself that I am a good person, I just did bad things because of addiction. And that is an effort every single day to not – try and go backwards, to try and move forwards.

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