Women looking to escape trauma getting hooked on gambling

Women who turned to gambling because of emotional trauma have revealed how their destructive habit made matters worse, leaving them in thousands of pounds of debt.

Speaking to the Mail Online, mental health nurse Jessica revealed that she turned to betting following a violent attack by an abusive boyfriend. She had been prescribed Valium, but soon found gambling could “shut off” her brain in much the same way.

Meanwhile, Naomi began gambling as an escape in the aftermath of divorce and bereavement.

Destructive behaviour

Jessica first won big when a £1 bet on a dog race resulted in a £5,000 payout. She was initially thrilled but the win sparked a pattern of destructive behaviour.

She came across an online slot game whereby a £1 bet could return up to £80 each spin.

She would bet all of her monthly salary and her student loan, and signed up to three credit cards to continue betting. While she occasionally won, she quickly racked up a sizeable debt.

‘I was embarrassed’

Jessica eventually contacted GamCare, but embarrassment and guilt initially stopped her accepting help.

“A counsellor kept ringing but I just ignored it. I was embarrassed. I was a mental health worker. I should have been fine.”

She explained how, when she finally relented, the counsellor gave her some tools to help herself, including drawing up a budget and getting rid of her phone.

It’s now been almost two years since Jessica last gambled, but she still owes £3,000.

£70,000 in debt

Naomi was in her late thirties when she turned to gambling after her brother died and she discovered her husband had been having an affair.

She managed to hide her problem for a while, but a cousin, Mary, noticed her becoming more withdrawn, and became suspicious when Naomi began asking for sums of money up to £100.

Mary confronted Naomi and discovered she had eleven bank cards and had taken out several payday loans. Within 18 months she had amassed a debt of £70,000.

Naomi contacted Step Change, which helped her to stop gambling and manage her debt repayments. She says she has not gambled in the last three years, but her debt still stands at £30,000.


Professor Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a consultant psychiatrist and founder and director of the National Problem Gambling Clinic in London, said a significant proportion of women aged 25-55 who had been referred to her clinic had experienced a traumatic life event such as an abusive marriage or sudden bereavement.

She said a lot of the young men she sees “gamble compulsively without having had any trauma”. But with the women she said, “You normally hear a very complex story”.

Prof Bowden-Jones is also concerned about the sudden rise in gambling among those aged 65 and over. Around 620,000 more in this age range are gambling at least once a month in this age range than there were at the beginning of the pandemic, with isolation at home believed to have led to greater exposure to gambling advertising.


Matt Zarb-Cousin, Director of Clean Up Gambling, said that older people “are more vulnerable and are shielding and only have Facebook, their laptop and TV to keep in touch with people”.

This means they are being constantly targeted by advertisers, which he said can be “quite overwhelming”.

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