From the national lottery to bingo halls, fruit machines, betting shops, the internet and even the odd dog track there are abundant opportunities for someone looking to have a flutter and many people are taking advantage of this availability. In 2012 68% of men and 61% of women in the UK participated in some form of gambling. For most people this is a little bit of fun that might result in some (or even a lot) of money depending on your luck.
For some though things get out of control and their gambling becomes a problem and most of these people are men. In 2012 between 0.6% and 0.8% of men had problem gambling compared to 0.1% of women. Now the numbers seem small but translate to thousands of lives potentially left in ruin and more troubling is that of men aged 16-24 2.2% where problem gamblers. The problem could well be on the rise.
Problem gambling is pretty hard to define but it is normally taken to mean gambling which is damaging to your work or school life, which causes you mental or even physical harm, which is unaffordable and can cause relationships to break down. It’s not pretty. It can worm its way into a person’s mind so it’s always there; making it hard to think about anything else. Most of the time it will get worse; about two thirds of problem gamblers will need outside help if they are going to move on.
What causes more men to develop problem gambling? The traditional narrative is that men are more drawn to risky behaviours because of testosterone. This enables us to wash our hands of the problem. It’s biological so there is nothing we can do. However as we have covered before this might be a simplistic way of looking at things and the reason men are be more driven to take risks is an attempt to live up to societal expectations. That is as we try to “be a man” we will do things that left to our own devices we wouldn’t.
Men are also more likely to report using gambling as a coping mechanism to deal with life’s ups and down. Just like alcohol we turn to it as a form of self medication when we need help. This might go some of the way to explain why problem gambling and alcohol are strongly linked. It also brings us back to the same issue.
Men are taught from a young age that masculinity is about being strong and independent to the point of never needing help. Never being brought low by the trials of life but this is impossible. No one is capable to tackling all of life’s problems by themselves. So some men turn to the rush of gambling to numb the pain. They chase ever larger losses and find themselves more anxious, depressed and stressed and suffer from a lower self esteem.
If we are to save the lives of problem gamblers from ruin we must offer them a better way of seeking help. We must make sure there are services willing and able to offer them the support they need and we need to, as a society, say that it is ok for a man to ask for help and be there when they do.