Friday, 17 January 2020

Some thoughts about addiction.

There have been news items again recently about the problems of gambling, specifically about the NHS having to pick up the pieces as addicted gamblers fall apart mentally. Gambling is a big and successful business. They reckon it takes £14.4bn from Uk punters every year. This is equal to £200 from every man, woman and child in the UK. This may not sound a huge amount per person per year until you take into account that most children do not gamble - although this is becoming a problem with increasing numbers of young people, still officially children, addicted to gambling - and there must be quite a lot of people like me who have never laid a bet in our lives.

Consequently betting bosses have made vast fortunes. The Bet365 boss Denise Coates has received more than half a billion pounds in salary and dividends in the past two years. The Betfred bosses Fred and Peter Done have a combined fortune of more than £1.25bn. Wow!

I remember a friend of mine who used to bet on a regular basis. I would be walking down the road with him and he would mutter something along the lines of “I just need to pop in here” and he would disappear into a betting shop, very quickly, not even long enough to make me wonder how long he might be. He always said it was his Irish heritage that made him bet. Nowadays he would be doing it online and it would not just be bets on horses and football matches but all sorts of gambling games on the computer and the mobile phone. As far as I know, he never won a substantial amount of money. 

Apparently this is another thing that we can blame Tony Blair’s government for. His government passed the Gambling Act 2005, dramatically liberalising the laws governing betting. The late Tessa Jowell, who pioneered the legislation, later described this as one of her biggest regrets.

Now, recently we have watched a number of TV series on channels with advertising. Apart from our having almost forgotten how infuriating it is to have your viewing interrupted, sometimes quite arbitrarily in the case of certain French and Italian series, for publicity, we have been astounded at how much advertising is for gambling. The ads are almost always accompanied by a little reminder to keep gambling fun and to stop gambling when it stops being fun, which is about as much use as the warning in the cigarette packet that SMOKING KILLS!

Then there’s the sports stuff. Apparently an episode of Match of the Day can feature more gambling logos than a Sky broadcast because of visible branding on pitch-side hoardings and elsewhere. Not to mention sponsorship of clubs by the gambling industry.

Time for the advertising and sponsorship to stop!

Getting back to the health problem, one little irony is that one of the companies making money from gamblers, Betfred, is also making money out of government contracts to provide health programmes to treat gambling’s addicts. It’s also rather unlikely that the government is going to put a stop to this as the brothers Done, who own Betfred, have donated £375,000 to the Conservative party since 2016.

Well, there you go!

Addiction is everywhere, it seems, to a greater or lesser extent. We discussed this in my Italian conversation group the other day. One of our number told us she is doing Dry-January ... to prove to herself that she is not an alcoholic. Her problem, she told us, is that when she opens a bottle of wine she feels she has to finish it. The idea that she could have a glass with her evening meal and then pop a bung in the bottle until the next day is one that she finds quite incomprehensible. So apparently is having specific “dry” days each week. She’s not alone in this. I have a friend who can’t keep bottles of wine in the house. She, or more frequently her grown-up daughter, could not resist the temptation to open on and drink it up.

The same works for sweet things, of course. Another friend of mine, when she has a box of chocolates, keeps it upstairs in a cupboard, on a high shelf, so that she has to make a special trip and climb up a set of steps if she gives in to temptation. Mostly though, she simply doesn’t have chocolates or sweets in the house.

And I have been known to hide biscuits and chocolate from my husband - just mildly addicted!

As for me, I confess to a mild addiction to buying clothes, kept in check mostly by the limited space in the wardrobe!

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