The past year has been particularly tough for gambling addicts wrestling with their habit.
High street bookmakers have been closed for much of the year, but online sports betting and casinos have done a roaring trade.
During the first lockdown, gambling firms agreed to stop advertising, in recognition of the potential dangers to vulnerable people cooped up at home. That pledge hasn’t been repeated in subsequent lockdowns.
Alex, 41, a company director from Lancashire, sought help from the NHS Northern Gambling Service – one of only three in the country – after struggling to find treatment in his area.
He has suffered from alcohol and drug addiction but said escaping gambling has been harder.
“Gambling is unique. There are ways of avoiding drinking and drugs. When I’m sat at home now, every other advert will be for gambling, it’s just everywhere during lockdown.
“There’s nothing positive to look to right now and my go-to is just to escape, to get into the casino, into my little gambling world.
“I live on my own with my dog and going through [the pandemic] is already difficult. To just have the odd conversation with a family member, rather than see people and get a hug, has left me feeling isolated and alone,” he said.
Last year, Alex resorted to a private rehab centre in Spain but again found that his gambling problem wasn’t well understood.
He said: “When I returned to the UK, it was just a matter of time and it happened quickly.
“I was straight back into the horses and sports [betting]. It soon turned into casinos because it’s just one push of the button. I’d start off with a 50p each way bet on the horses and before I know it I’d lost £2,000 on the casino.”
Jordan from Cheshire, whose name has been changed at his request, tried various methods to give up gambling, without success.
“In the bookies they have signs up [for industry-funded treatment services] but it was always just a leaflet and while you’re in there, you’re not looking to stop.
“Lockdown made it worse because during those times some of the shops were shut so I’d go online more than I would have done. You can do a lot of damage in the shops but it’s not like what you can do online, with £500 spins in seconds.”
Jordan has attended sessions at the NHS Northern Gambling Service, which offers cognitive behavioural therapy favoured by many gambling addiction experts, and he has been bet-free for nearly eight months.