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Frances Black said family members need to "step into their own recovery". Alamy Stock Photo
Gambling Addiction

The 'hidden victims' of the hidden addiction: Problem gambling and its impact on family members

“They had to change their lives because of what gambling addiction had done.”

A FORMER SCHOOL principal, who stole nearly €100,000 to fuel a “severe” gambling addiction, had a 20-month sentence suspended by a judge last week.

During the sentencing, judge Tom O’Donnell said that gambling addictions destroy lives and have a “catastrophic impact” on the lives of those around the person with the gambling problem.

The trial heard that 43-year-old, father of three, Stephen Condon’s life fell apart due to a crippling gambling addiction.

The judge acknowledged that Condon, who had “risen through the ranks” of the Limerick school, had a “fall from grace” and had “devastated his family dynamics” as a result of the addiction.

Such devastation is unfortunately common, with one expert telling The Journal that it is the “hidden side” of gambling addiction. 

Dr Crystal Fulton, an associate professor in University College Dublin who published a study on the social impact of gambling in 2015, explained: “There’s a second side to [gambling addiction] – the families are the hidden victims of this problem.”

Dr Fulton said that there are very few services in Ireland for the support of family members who are impacted by another person’s addictions.

One of them is the Rise foundation, its CEO is the Senator Frances Black. 

“We at the Rise Foundation believe that when someone is in addiction, whether it be alcohol, drugs, gambling – whatever it might be – the family members need to step into their own separate recovery,” she told The Journal

Black said that any type of addiction impacts the entire family “in a devastating way”.

From her study, Dr Fulton said that families felt they were not “included” in the recovery process and that they had to deal with the “shock” of the addiction by themselves.

Black said that the need for family members to “step into their own recovery” is important as they “still need to find ways to deal with the stress, the anxiety, the worry, the trauma and it’s important that they try and learn how to cope”.

In the Limerick case this week, the court heard about a marital breakdown and how family savings were used for gambling. 

Dr Fulton’s study, Playing Social Roulette, found that trust among family members and the person with gambling problems would sever and the family as a unit were “almost always in crisis”.

Dr Fulton said: “If a couple can stay together, they’re very fortunate.

“You will often see this kind-of break down in relationships and families, and it’s because there’s a complete breach of trust.”

Black said: “Gambling addiction has so much secrecy behind it.

“A lot of the time the family members aren’t aware of it until there’s a huge debt and all of a sudden the person who has the problem has to tell the family or someone is calling to the house looking for money,” Black added.

In most cases, according to the study, trust among the family unit is “non-existent” even after the person is in recovery or has surpassed their exclusion period – a common form of detoxing among problem gamblers.

“When the family finds out that someone has a gambling problem, it’s soul destroying,” the senator said.

Black told The Journal that it takes a “long, long time” for trust between someone with a gambling problem and their family is revived.

The Senator added that the family member can heal by going through their own recovery and learning how to “let go and pull back”.

The UCD professor told The Journal that many family members who were interviewed in her study were “holding on to what they could” to save their relationships.

“I had a father tell me about his son [...] But you could just see that the trust was gone forever. They loved their son, but you couldn’t leave a purse or some loose change out – you couldn’t leave anything like that out,” Dr Fulton said.

“They had to change their lives because of what gambling addiction had done.”

Black said that family members will often attempt to hide and manage money through certain ways where the person with the gambling addiction will not be able to have access to it.

However, Black added that controlling money in the home is very difficult to do as the person with a gambling problem can find other means of obtaining enough money to gamble with.

The UCD study found that it was not uncommon for the family to continue to hold a stigma against the member of the family who problem gambles for a long period of time after.

Additionally, family and friends told the researchers that people with gambling problems will isolate themselves from the unit and were frequently “spaced out”.

Black said: “If you have alcohol or drugs, you’re more inclined to see if the person is stoned or drunk – but with gambling it’s just surrounded by secrecy and hiding.”

Dr Fulton said that the people with gambling problems she spoke to in her study would speak about the difficulties they had whilst attempting to address the issue.

Black said: “For a family to watch their loved one going down that self-destruct route, it’s really heartbreaking – it’s not just about isolation, it’s everything.”

Black said for families who see this happen it can be “form of grief” as they see someone “going down this really dark road”.

The senator said that “powerlessness” families feel when they see someone with an addiction issue is what she thinks has the largest impact on the family unit.


Regulation which will attempt to bring in measures to make it harder for people from developing gambling addictions are set to be introduced by this year, according to junior Minister for Justice James Browne.

Browne said last week that planning is “progressing” to introduce the Gambling Regulation Bill and that the newly formed Gambling Regulation Authority has been in contact with stakeholders, including “gambling care experts”.

The Health Research Board estimates, in their most up-to-date research, that there are 12,000 high-risk problem gamblers and 35,000 moderate risk gamblers in Ireland.

As Judge O’Donnell said in court this week: “Unfortunately this court has seen the fallout from people’s addictions, whether it is drugs, alcohol or, in this case, gambling, which destroys their lives, and has catastrophic impact on the lives of those closest to them”.

If you or someone you know needs help with dealing with gambling, you can get help and support now by sending a text to Extern Problem Gambling on 089 241 5401 (ROI) or 07537142265 (NI). For more details, please visit:

Additional reporting by David Raleigh

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