Liz Karter, Leading UK Gambling Therapist chats to Peter White
To commence this interview could we start with a brief history of your life to date and how it brought you to where you are today an expert on compulsive gamblers involving how they become addicted to recovery treatment.
My life path to being considered a leading UK therapist in gambling addiction has been a rich and varied one: a combination of personal experiences and professional training. I have never had an addiction to gambling but personal experiences such as loss and grief and even ending up raising my children alone has given me a deep empathy with the key underlying triggers for gambling addiction, such as stress, depression and anxiety. My professional career started 20 years ago. Since then I have worked with the leading UK gambling addiction treatment agencies, been a pioneer in developing treatment methods for women, established my independent practice, Level Ground Therapy in 2010, published 3 books on gambling addiction in women, appeared as consultant therapist on TV and radio and have a portfolio of gambling companies with whom I work as consultant. I help review their safer gambling policies and procedures and train staff to feel confident in conversation with customers who have a gambling addiction. It sounds hugely busy – I do practice what I preach and make time for my partner, family and a little time just to myself, too!
When did the Women Gambling Treatment Programme get started and is this in response to an increase in the number of women whom have become addicted to gambling?
I started developing treatment for gambling addiction in women in 2006 when I established the first UK weekly recovery group for women. Back then, women with gambling addiction always reported problems with slot machine and hardly ever sought help. They would imagine they were the only women who had a gambling addiction as it was viewed a very male problem. Men were gambling on sports and casino tables and addicted to the buzz. Women were gambling on slots to feel numb. I started to develop ways of working with women that treated their gambling addiction and their problems underneath that drove the addiction. Often these were problems with partners and families. Even though now over 98% of women I treat have an addiction to online gambling, in 2019 the reasons for the addiction in women remain the same.
Do you think mainstream society should have a better understanding and appreciation of addictions than they do currently?
I think that even though we talk about gambling addiction more than ever before it remains the most misunderstood of all addictions. Because it involves money and gambling most people mistakenly think someone gets addicted to gambling because they are greedy for money or are too stupid to know the odds of winning. They don’t understand that loss chasing and obsession with money is the consequence of the addiction, once someone has got themselves in devastating debt. The cause of the addiction that someone getting addicted to the way they feel when they gamble – addicted either to a buzz and a thrill from fast moving products or feeling numb from staring at a slot machine or computer screen. They get addicted because something in their lives is causing stress, depression or anxiety and gambling is their emotional medication. If more of us understood that I think we would have more empathy. We can all relate to struggling with feeling sad and scared at times.
Can you define what conduct and actions that in your opinion define an ‘addicted gambler’ from someone who likes to gamble often?
Many people like to gamble often, like many people enjoy a glass of wine or a beer, and never develop a problem. They spend time and money they can afford and, win or lose, can walk away feeling okay. If someone is an addicted gambler, they feel they have no choice but to gamble. If they win and get a high, they crave more gambling. If they lose, they feel a crashing low and crave more gambling. They all gamble at all costs to their finances, jobs and relationships because they crave their fix.
The land-based Casino industry is heavily regulated and is a sector that employs worldwide millions of people and the vast majority involved are hard working professionals whom have very high personal moral standards and its those high standards are a major factor in their being employed in this industry. So do you think public opinion should reflect that and not be stuck in the 1950’s and 60’s?
Working with leading casinos I know how so many employed within this sector really do take professional pride in doing their best for their customers. They also take personal satisfaction in feeling they have helped another person who is suffering: especially once I have helped them to truly understand the issues driving the addiction. I also provide them with tried and tested key phrases to have a short and productive conversation with a customer. Staff tell me they feel more confident in their interactions. I think that if the public understood that the motivation for gambling addiction is frequently stress, depression or anxiety they might understand that the problem cannot be taken away just by ever increasing restrictions on gambling products and advertising. Yes, we need to continue reasoned conversations about these matters, yes, we need good regulation. But we also need to recognise and address the social and mental health factors that contribute to someone developing a gambling addiction. Yes, mental health problems are the consequence of a gambling addiction, but frequently they are a cause, too.
What are the main areas you concentrate on when treating recovering gamblers?
When treating recovering gamblers, I help someone to stop the gambling behaviour. This can be achieved in 4 weeks. I published a self-help book “Gambling Addiction in Women: Four Weeks to Freedom” to help women who cannot come to see me to help themselves. To achieve life long, rewarding recovery I then help someone identify what was triggering the addiction and give advice, guidance and support to make positive life changes. This can take a few months – it is certainly time well spent. Most of my clients come back and tell me they remain gambling free at 1 year after treatment. Many keep in touch here and there and tell me about happier, successful lives, new jobs, marriages and new babies.
Are there any determining factors with regards to those who become addicted gamblers, such as age, sex, income level or education or is it like others across all?
Six years ago I would have said that women I treated were those on low income, often single parents, gambling on slots on arcades. Now, I see just as many middle-class professional women. Online gambling has crossed the social and gender divide. Women now have access to gambling in their homes, offices and handbags. I am also treating young men with addiction to online gambling and they also are addicted to numbing their feelings with online gambling. These look like a very different group of people, but they have similar determining factors for their addiction. They are struggling with thoughts and feelings about unhappy lives. Often, feeling they cannot express these feeling they suppress them through their addiction.
You are also a published author. What is the theme of your book and what was your inspiration behind writing it?
I have written three books on gambling addiction in women. I was inspired by the hundreds of women I have treated. I wanted to be their voice and help others who have the addiction, and their family and friends, truly understand what leads someone into the gambling addiction trap and how to get out of it. I work with such courageous, creative, empathic and intelligent women and all of this gets buried underneath the addiction. I want to inspire women to become their whole self again – and wiser and stronger for their experiences.
In your opinion do you think there are other initiatives those organisations involved in the Gambling industry can do to assist in educating the public about Gambling that includes the likes of Lotteries?
I think a great message the gambling industry could give the general public is that if anyone regularly gambles when they are feeling stressed, depressed or anxious then they are at risk of losing control and developing an addiction.
Teenagers and the 18 to 35 demographic are the generations most wired into the digital world. Do you think there is enough being done to ensure this cohort are aware of the pitfalls of Gambling?
Teenagers wired into the digital world can find it a short step from using games consoles and smart phones to gambling online. Part of the appeal of life online is losing touch with reality. When it comes to gambling online that is also a large part of the problem. Someone gambling for the first time does not understand they can easily lose touch with reality of how much money they have spent, then panic and start a cycle of loss chasing.
Given you have extensive experience of gambling addiction can you therefore provide those that enjoy gambling advice on how to continue and remain in control?
To keep enjoying your gambling and remain in control only gamble with affordable amounts of money and time. Only gamble when you already feel good mentally and emotionally. Avoid gambling if you have had too much to drink, are taking recreational or strong prescribed medication, are feeling physically unwell, hungover, or very upset about something. Any of those things can make it hard to make sensible decisions about when to stop gambling.
Are there any signs people can use to tell if a friend, work colleague or relative is getting into gambling too heavily and is there anything they can say or do that can make a difference?
If someone you are close to is developing a gambling addiction unlike a drug or alcohol addiction it is very easy for them to hide it. But there will be signs.
• Mood swings
• Seeming preoccupied, anxious, short tempered or depressed
• Lacking interest in people and activities they would usually enjoy
• Sleep problems
• Staying up using smart phones or computers late at night or getting up in the night to use them
• Seeming restless and agitated when away from digital devices
• Becoming secretive about using digital devices
• Asking to borrow money or you notice money going missing
If you are concerned that someone you are close to is developing an addiction to gambling, however you are feeling, remain calm. Think about how you can mention your concerns in a non-confrontational way. They are likely to feel ashamed and scared of giving up their addiction as their cravings may feel too strong to overcome. Try mentioning your concerns over coffee or whilst going for a walk. Calmly tell them you are concerned about them and give examples of the changes in their behaviour which concern you. Let them know that you understand there are always reasons anyone gets addicted to gambling and that with help anyone can overcome their addiction. If they do share anything with you, just listen – you don’t have to have all the answers for them. Give them some contact numbers for professional help. Invite them to talk to you again if they wish to. Don’t expect change to happen instantly. It may take the person time to act and they may even behave defensively towards you. But in the future, they will appreciate what you did for them. Remember to get support for yourself if you need it. If your loved one has a gambling addiction it can cause you to feel stressed, depressed and anxious too and you deserve support.
For the vast majority of adults that gamble it is a fun enjoyable pastime viewing sporting events has that edge if you have a stake in the outcome, wouldn’t you agree?
Yes, for most people gambling is great fun and it can be exciting to watch sport and have a bet. I myself have attended race meetings and had a bet on a horse and played roulette at a casino and was excited to win my taxi fare home. As with alcohol It is not the product alone that causes problems. To truly help those who develop addiction to gambling we must also look at the life of the whole person. That is what I believe because that is what my experience continues to show me. Speaking on a safer gambling panel, at a recent industry event, a question from the audience was what did I think is the key protective factor against addiction? My answer was emotional intelligence. Our ability to identify what we feel and look after our most troubling thoughts and feelings is vital to our health and happiness. The happier and healthier our lives are, the less we want to escape from them via addiction.
How can those interested to find out more about your books and counselling consultancy services get in contact with you?
If anyone wishes to contact me concerned about someone who might have a gambling addiction, or to discuss my consultancy services, my contact details are:
Email: info @levelgroundtherapy.uk Tel: +44(0)7792166328 Twitter: @liz_karter