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Struggling with a Gambling Addiction – John Hartson Tells of How Much Better His Life is in Recovery

John Hartson, former Celtic and Wales star, has told of his struggle with gambling and how this addiction was harder to deal with than his battle with cancer. He has told of the denial that he even had a problem and that he just did not realise that he was causing hurt to his family. This is a familiar story and one that the families of other gambling addicts will be able to identify with. Hartson said, “Your family know you’re addicted, but I used to think they had the problem by questioning me.”


Hartson’s moment of realisation came when wife Sarah decided she had had enough and told him she was leaving. She said that she was fed up with him coming home from a trip away and heading straight for the television to turn on whatever sport he had his latest bet on. He would ignore her and the children and only focused on his gambling. When she told the star she was leaving, he knew he had a problem that needed to be fixed. He said, “I hit rock bottom and it takes that for you to realise – the penny dropped. I will never gamble again as long as I live. If I gamble again, I’ll die.”


Hartson has been in recovery for over three years now and has compared his gambling addiction to his cancer in that both are capable of killing. He knows that his gambling addiction could have led to him being on the streets, in prison or even dead, but he was lucky enough to have found Gamblers Anonymous. Hartson is thankful that he did find GA as he said it has saved his marriage and his life. He is continuing to attend meetings twice weekly and does not even buy lottery tickets anymore. He plans to keep attending until he is in his seventies as it helps, with him calling it his ‘medicine’.

Gambling and Sports Stars

There are approximately 400,000 people struggling with a gambling addiction in the UK and Hartson has said that most who come to the meetings do not come back because they are not ready to get better. He knows more than anyone that gamblers can be selfish and deceitful. They are also manipulative and know how to cover their tracks. Many professional sports stars have gambling problems and a recent study revealed that sports stars are actually three times more likely to suffer with a gambling addiction than those who do not play professional sport.

Alarming Statistics

The study showed that 6.1% of sports men have a gambling problem compared to 1.9% of the general population of young men. At the moment, almost 200 professionals from the cricket and football industry have a gambling problem, with another 440 considered at risk.

Of those questioned, 10 per cent admitted to gambling in order to ‘fit-in’, while 25 per cent told of how teammates had encouraged them to bet. In addition, almost 33 per cent felt that they were encouraged to bet because of the links their team has with the gambling industry.

This is a worrying admission for the football industry considering that 25 per cent of the clubs in the Premier League are sponsored by the gambling industry. Moreover, every one of the league’s 72 clubs play in competitions that are sponsored by Sky Bet.

Gambling and Suicide

Because of how destructive a gambling addiction can be for the entire family, it is no surprise that, of all addictions, gambling has the highest rate of suicide. Another sports star, Niall McNamee, who plays Gaelic football in Ireland, has told of how his gambling addiction led to him contemplating suicide. He told how he woke in pain one morning because he had no money left to gamble with. He said, “The thought came to me that if I jumped out of the window that would end it all. It terrified me. I have had friends who have died from this addiction.”

Luckily for McNamee, he decided to get help instead as he knew he had reached his rock bottom. He has come out the other side of addiction intact and now regularly speaks about problem gambling.

Signs of a Gambling Addiction

Hartson admitted that his family could see he had a problem but that he could not. This is quite a common occurrence among gamblers and their families. A gambler often thinks that he or she is simply having fun and cannot see the damage that their actions are causing. They will often feel aggrieved when confronted and questioned about a ‘problem’ and will fiercely deny any wrongdoing or so-called addiction. They are usually very good and putting their case forward and family members can be made to feel that they were in the wrong for even suggesting an addiction. However, the problems will usually continue and it will get to the stage at which a problem is hard to ignore.

The following are a few signs displayed by someone suffering with a gambling addiction. If they are familiar to you, then you or your loved one will probably need help.

  • Those with a gambling addiction will lie in order to hide their addiction. Deep down, they will know that what they are doing is wrong and they will not want others to know. They may become secretive and will begin to lie to their family and friends to cover their tracks and to enable them to continue betting.
  • Gamblers who have been confronted will often say that they are just gambling to win back money that they have lost. They will usually say that once they do win this back, they will stop. They will probably have a reason why they lost – i.e. they were not using the right strategy. They will tell you that they know what they have to do to win now.
  • Once a gambling addiction takes hold, addicts will begin to lose money – it is inevitable. They often do not know when to stop once they have begun and they will continue to plough all available funds into their betting account as they try to chase their losses. When it gets to the point that they have nothing left and have realised that they have spent money that was meant for bills or the mortgage, they will panic and will have to borrow from friends or family. Some gamblers will borrow money for gambling purposes but will say it is for something else entirely. They may even begin to take out credit cards just so that they have access to more money for betting.
  • Addicts will often begin to neglect the responsibilities that interfere with their gambling including family and work. They will only think about gambling and will spend all available time placing bets.

If this sounds like you or someone you know, then help may be needed. Addiction Helpline’s team of counsellors can advise on the best treatment options available for dealing with a gambling addiction. Call us today for free, independent advice.

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