I’ve never understood people’s obsession with gambling. It astonishes me that people are actually so willing to spend their time in a place where you’re more likely to lose money than make it.

Of course, you hear the odd story or two about people who hit the jackpot big time, but ask yourself, how many people do you actually know who are rich from gambling winnings?

While I don’t understand the obsession, the one thing I do get is addiction. I get how attractive something could be, how it pulls you in and how it in no time can convince you that your life would be incomplete if you didn’t have that craving satisfied.

Gambling addiction? It’s a ball in a whole different court.

Having walked my way through a fair share of casino establishments (without ever going near to any of the money machines), I’m convinced that everything about it is meant to draw you in: The plush and luxurious carpets, the flashy and blinged-up lights of the machines that turn you into functioning zombies at the press of a button, and the strikingly attractive Black Jack and Russian Roulette tables – it’s one big marketing monster waiting to swallow you whole.

Like most addiction stories go, it started off with a “just this once” rhetoric.

And my uncle was ripe for the taking. For the sake of this piece, let’s call him Leon.

Leon was someone who had it all (how many stories have we heard that all starts this way? And why is it that people who have everything going for them never learn from other stories exactly like this?)

Married with three children, and living in a warm and inviting home (we were often invited over), Leon had the kind of lifestyle that made many of our relatives, to this day, question why he felt the need to even start gambling. He’s never been overtly wealthy, but he was comfortable enough to manage without extra financial aid.

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He ran his own business and could come and go as he pleased. He rarely had a problem when it came to paying his accounts on time and could afford to shop at places without counting all his pennies.

In short, he lived the kind of life that most middle to upper class folk want for themselves. At least, until the late nights at casinos started.

Like most addiction stories go, it started off with a “just this once” rhetoric.

And then once became once a week. Just a quick trip going to the casino, spending a few hours at the machine and if money was won, that would be the end. Slowly, but surely, the once a week trip became thrice a week. Thrice a week turned into every day. And he’d be gone for hours on end, only heading home in the early hours of the morning.

When he wasn’t at gambling establishments, he’d spend most of his day sleeping.

His moods became erratic. He could be charming one minute (that usually meant a trip to the casino went well and that he won money) and rude, abrasive and abrupt the next (the sign of either a huge loss of money or of not having his casino visit fix).

Whether he won or lost money, he felt compelled to go back every time because when he did win, he wanted more and when he lost, he wanted to make up for it.

His business started suffering. Time spent at work dwindled. Any money made went into supplementing his gambling obsession and he rapidly started losing clients. He started spending almost every night at the casino and the only time he’d come home was to eat, sleep and demand food.

He became secretive about his spending habits, and when he was in dire financial straits, he’d often come and ask my father or mother for financial help (as his wife and children had had enough by now and stopped trying to help him).

To any outsider, it was obvious that he was spiralling into place that would be hard to get out of.

When he won money, he was ever the affable soul. He’d be generous and spend things on stuff he didn’t need. If you were lucky, you’d be the recipient of a gift or two.

But the problem is that even the good days didn’t stop him wanting more. Whether he won or lost money, he felt compelled to go back every time because when he did win, he wanted more and when he lost, he wanted to make up for it. That compulsive need devoured, and created a monster.

A monster who lost so much money, that he nearly lost everything else that mattered in the long run.

While he still lives in the same house he has for years, the amount of debt he’s incurred has forced him to give up ownership (if he hadn’t, he would have lost everything). He was forced to sell his business to pay off his debt and now works for someone else instead of being his own boss.

Was there a turning point in his addiction?  I’m not sure.  I sometimes suspect that he may still be going on – although the fact that he nearly lost everything certainly was a rude awakening.

What I do know is that this taught me that addiction can happen to the best of us. It’s a moment of weakness that can become bigger than your life and one that is almost impossible to get out of unless you really want to get help.

Do you know of someone who is struggling with a gambling addiction problem? Or did you struggle with an addiction yourself? Share your stories with us and we may publish it in future (anonymously, if you'd prefer).

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