Oldham News | Main News | How a former addict recovered from a ‘selfish’ 12 year gambling spiral
Reporter: George Lythgoe, Local Democracy Reporter
Release date: December 18, 2022
Former gambling addict Will Halstead, 33, is now a project coordinator at GamHive helping others recover from addiction
More than £200,000 down after 12 years of addiction, Will Halstead felt suicidal, shamed and alienated from society.
His addiction began at the age of 18 with accumulator bets on soccer games before roulette wheels and online slot machines captured him and spiraled his gambling out of control.
His relationship with his parents, with whom he lived, collapsed as a result, and he felt “in a bubble” of gambling that no offers of help or support could penetrate.
He borrowed money from his mother and blew it, repeating the cycle with bank loans – all on the “casino in his pocket”.
“The values went up so much that I kind of had to invest more money to get the same kind of buzz,” said the former accountant, who is originally from Huddersfield.
“And from there it took more and more time and more and more money.
“I soon went from paycheck to paycheck and just gambled it away.
“I sat in my room waiting for (my salary) to come in and I gambled it away online within an hour of receiving it.
“I could borrow that much money and the bank didn’t take care of it – a recipe for disaster, really.
“My relationships fell apart and I wasn’t involved in anything.
“All I thought about was betting.
“Eventually it started to affect my mental health and when I wasn’t playing I was probably really having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of suicide.”
After repeated relapses and failure to bring about lasting change through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the breaking point for Will, 33, was when he was at his “financial peak.”
He said to himself, “Are you really going to do this for the rest of your life?”
He emailed gambling control service Gamstop and immediately felt relieved.
It was the trigger for a major trend reversal. Two years and eight months later, after being supported by individual and group sessions, he now works as a project coordinator at the group therapy project GaMHive, the charity that helped him.
Since quitting, Will has been on a “journey of self-discovery” and has found a form of therapy through journaling.
He has even written a book, A House in the Country: Gambling Free and Happy Living.
The book documents his journey of addiction with insights into his mindset during those 12 years.
It’s an example of his newfound sense of time – like before, he felt “there’s no time in the day for anything but gambling”.
“The only thing about giving up gambling is the amount of time you suddenly have,” he said.
“So it’s really hard for people to focus on other things.
“I always tell people to write down what they’re feeling.
“I think it’s a kind of therapy that you get from that.”
Will says spending time doing things you love can be the most beneficial.
He describes idle hands as an “absolute killer,” so focusing on what he enjoyed — and what gave him purpose — was key to breaking a cycle of relapses.
“I am grateful to be where I am now”
Will has since healed his relationship with his mother and is trying to make amends for his “selfish” twenties.
He’d been so secretive about his problem that his closest friends didn’t even know it.
When he confessed, they were “shocked” by the length and depth of his addiction.
“It sounds weird to say this, but it’s something we sometimes talk about in gambling groups, just being thankful for what you’ve been through because it made you look at your life,” he said.
“My mum would look at me now and say she’s really proud of how far I’ve come since I stopped playing and what I’m trying to do for other people.
“I’m a lot more aware now of what it takes to have relationships with people because I was just so selfish before.
“I was really rubbish while now I’m the opposite, I’ll just try to be as selfless as possible.
“If I hadn’t gambled, would I have had this awareness?
“I may not know, but I’m definitely grateful to be where I am now.”
“Conquer the Industry”
Will says the shame he felt for his actions was “a major barrier to getting help.”
But campaigns launched by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority like Odds Are: They Win and the work of GaMHive can help break the stigma surrounding gambling addiction and mental health.
He believes Greater Manchester can help bring about change simply by “educating people about addiction and also the tactics used by the gambling industry”.
In his new role at GaMHive he wants to try and work with organizations like the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to try to incorporate lived experiences into their campaigns.
He believes that the voice of those who have lived with addiction is key to getting people out of the gambling “bubble” as it provides an example of what can be done.
If it can happen to Will, who was a “numbers man” as an accountant, it can happen to anyone.
That’s why he supports the GMCA’s Gambling Harms Campaign to educate people about industry practices that can negatively impact health and well-being, finances, work, and relationships with friends and family.
A UK premiere, the campaign goes beyond the typical narrative of ‘responsible’ gambling and personal responsibility.
This campaign says that no matter what gambling product, whoever the gambling operator is and how you look at it, the odds are there: you win.
It will be delivered during the 2022 FIFA World Cup. across a range of digital and outdoor channels, including metropolitan billboards and billboards on the Metrolink network, to get people talking about the risks of gambling.
Will says he’s seeing more women “finding escapism through gambling” as well as young men, and he wants the government to make gambling reform a priority.
More will be known when the Gambling Act whitepaper – the review of UK gambling reform – is released, but this has been delayed following a cabinet reshuffle by Liz Truss. Ministers are pushing for this to be released before Christmas but nothing has been confirmed as of yet.
Meanwhile, under the Greater Manchester Gambling Harm Reduction Programme, GMCA has awarded grants of £300,000 to support organizations and partnerships across the metropolitan area to carry out initiatives aimed at preventing and reducing gambling-related harm and to fight inequalities.
All areas of Greater Manchester will benefit from the funding – from training volunteers in Oldham, Salford, Tameside and Manchester, to tailored support for those currently unemployed in Wigan, to a targeted intervention for victims and perpetrators of domestic violence in Rochdale.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “As an industry, the primary objective of gambling operators is to maximize profits.
“These gains are the result of customer losses that could have a serious negative impact on people’s lives, especially during this livelihood crisis.
“This Greater Manchester campaign is the first of its kind to highlight harmful tactics used by the industry and help people protect themselves against them.
“This is especially important during the World Cup and the overwhelming amount of gambling advertising that will be hitting our TV screens.
“We are doing all we can in Greater Manchester to prevent and reduce gambling harm and we need to complement this with national action.
“The review of the Gambling Act is now overdue and the Government must seize this opportunity to do more to protect our residents and people across the country from the harmful practices of the gambling industry.”
Gambling Addiction Support Websites:
Welcome – Gamhive
Home – GamFam
Help with gambling problems – NHS
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