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Get free help for a gambling disorder

Written by Kgaogelo Letsebe

There is no denying there is a certain glamour to gambling. Yet, for someone suffering from a gambling addiction, life is far from glamorous. 

This is according to Lesego Kwanini (34), a marketing consultant from Alexandra, who started gambling in 2010 to escape the stress of her relationship and financial situation.

“It started innocently, taking a chance on the slot machines. It wasn’t long before I was hooked. In one day, I won R50 000. It’s hard to say no to that kind of rush. But in the end, my habit cost far more than I ever won,” says Kwanini.

Between 2010 and 2015, Kwanini lost her job, family and friends. “I was lying to the people closest to me, but I didn’t care… I had my slot machines – they were my friends.”

It was only a matter of time before those ‘friends’ turned into enemies. Running out of money to support her gambling habit, Kwanini found herself in debt and turned to loan sharks, who she could not pay back. “I was on the verge of suicide,” she admits.

While at a casino, Kwanini saw a pamphlet about the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation’s (SARGF) treatment programme for problem gamblers. She attended the foundation’s free outpatient counselling sessions for three months. “It was hard. There were many times I felt like gambling, but I stayed strong,” she says.
“I feel blessed now. I’m in a happy place.”

According to Sibongile Simelane-Quntana, the Executive Director of the SARGF, a problem gambler is someone who continues to gamble despite the negative consequences or impact it has on their life. They also do not want to stop.

There are many signs a disordered gambler may exhibit, including being withdrawn, tired and asking for money or loans, she says.

“There are no winners in gambling, only some who lose less,” says psychiatrist Dr Mike West, who practises at Akeso Milnerton.

Betting on games of chance or horses is harmless fun for most people but, when people lose control over their gambling habit, it can be as addictive and destructive as using drugs, says Dr West. 

He advises regular gamblers to ask themselves the following questions: 

  • Do you hide the extent of your gambling?
  • Do you gamble to escape from problems? 
  • Are you making larger bets?
  • When you are not gambling, do you feel irritable or depressed?
  • Do you crave gambling or spend a lot of time thinking about gambling?
  • Have you had difficulties in the workplace because of gambling?
  • Is your gambling negatively affecting your relationships?

If you answer yes to these questions, Dr West advises an in-depth assessment for a gambling disorder.

If you think you need help, contact SARGF’s toll-free, 24-hour helpline at 0800 006 008, send a WhatsApp to 076 675 0710 or visit www.responsiblegambling.org.za. All services, including support, information, assessment and referral for face-to-face counselling, are free.