How one Preston woman's life came crashing down after discovering her husband's gambling addiction - and how her experience could help you

A Preston mum has opened up about how her life came crashing down when she found out about her husband's gambling addiction.

By Catherine Musgrove
Friday, 25th March 2022, 12:30 pm
Updated Friday, 25th March 2022, 7:03 pm

After losing her marriage, house, being plunged into debt and emotional turmoil, Nicola Jacques from Fulwood, is determined to use her story to help others in a similar position after new research revealed gambling participation is back to pre-pandemic levels and an estimated 1.4 million people are experiencing harms from it.

>>>Click here to read about the consequences of gambling in Preston

Nicola is now working for the Beacon Counselling Trust, a local provider for the National Gambling Treatment Service (NGTS), and has been instrumental in setting up a new one-stop service to help 'affected others' - people in a similar situation to herself.

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Photo Neil Cross; Nicola Jacques

The NGTS works in partnership with the NHS and other organisations to provide free, confidential support through telephone, website, face to face, group and residential therapy.

Last year alone, the NGTS helped roughly 8,500 people across the country, however, GambleAware’s figures show that for every person who gets NGTS support each year, there are nearly 160 others who could benefit but don’t get the help they need.

Nicola's story

The 36-year-old discovered her husband's gambling problem by chance in 2017 after seeing a text message from a payday loan company flash up on his phone.

Photo Neil Cross; Nicola Jacques

It said a payment was due out, and Nicola recognised the last three digits of the account referred to.

She said: "I thought 'that's odd, we don't have any debt, and certainly not to any pay day lenders'. I asked my husband and he said 'don't worry about it, it's spam'."

But with a nagging feeling something wasn't right, Nicola decided to check their account online.

She said: "It sounds silly, but it wasn't something I'd usually do. He did all the family banking, he earned big money.

Photo Neil Cross; Nicola Jacques

"I tried to get online but my account details weren't right, and that set off alarm bells. I took my phone to the downstairs toilet and re-registered for online banking while he was hovering outside.

"At that point, I saw transaction after transaction for different betting accounts."

Tens of thousands in debt

Nicola said her husband had been mainly betting on sports fixtures, and on matches that he would have no knowledge of, such as a Mexican Under 16s netball tournament.

Although she said his gambling had been going on since they met over a decade earlier, it escalated between 2014 and 2017.

At the point she discovered the truth, 30 per cent of the family's income was being spent on gambling a month, racking up tens of thousands in debt.

On one occasion, her husband had applied online for a loan of £17,000 at 7.30pm, it was approved before midnight the same day, and he had spent it all within two weeks.

But because her husband refused to speak about the gambling, Nicola was forced to painstakingly unravel all the details herself.

She found out he had been burning mail for five years while working at home, had set up multiple email addresses and set up several loans, some in joint names.

She said: "The amount of work to investigate it all was incredible, and I was being hampered by GDPR, so I couldn't speak to lenders about credit in his name, and I couldn't even cancel the Sky subscription because it was in his name.

"All of these red letters were coming through my door and there was nothing I could do."

Nicola said potentially losing her home was her worst fear, and she did eventually sell the family house and move into her own home, but that was not simple, as debt affected her credit score for a mortgage.

How didn't you know?

"How didn't you know?" That was one of the first questions the bank manager asked me and I wanted to die in that moment", she said.

"I felt like he was suggesting I was complicit in it."

She added: "There is a total misunderstanding of how it works. Once a person develops a compulsion, it rewires the brain.

"There are no physical signs, and these days people carry a casino in their pockets. You have no idea how much a person is gambling - they could be doing it on the bus, they could be doing it on the computer screen at work next to you."

Getting help

Nicola said her husband was in denial over his addiction, and she tried to access help for him immediately.

She said: "I recognised straight away that we needed more assistance than just figuring out how to pay the debt.

"Affected others are mostly nuturing people, we want to seek help for our loved ones, but if that person isn't ready for help, it doesn't mean that you don't need it yourself.

"All of this made me ill. I completely neglected myself and I still had to manage the house, work, the children.

"At first I went into fight or flight mode, autopilot, but it actually made me really poorly. I think burnout only really hit me a year later. It felt like grief."

Frustration

Nicola said she could easily spent four to five hours on the phone a day, having conversations with different banks, loan companies and government departments.

She said she was left frustrated and with a feeling of injustice because her family circumstances meant she was unable to claim any benefits, she was unable to get any legal aid for her divorce after her husband left her four weeks after the discovery, and felt "nobody had any understanding of gambling-related harm."

She said: "All this help was there for him, but what about me?

"People need to be more aware. I felt the stigma of it too and there has been very little help for affected others.

"With alcohol and substance abuse, people are more aware of the harm and who is at risk. So let's have more conversations about gambling, because it's going under the radar."

She added: "My story's not isolated in any shape or form.

"People are not seeking help for gambling, but they are showing up at housing offices when they can't afford their rent, they are going to their GP with anxiety and depression because they feel powerless over their circumstances, they are getting debt plans.

"Society is enabling people to carry on gambling rather than seeking help for it."

Beacon Counselling Trust

Nicola was able to access free, non-judgemental talking therapy from the Beacon Counselling Trust, and said she was able to draw an emotional line under things.

She added: "It did help as well that I have a supportive family. But it's changed retirement plans for my parents, his parents.

"There's not a single member of the family not impacted.

"And I am an educated person, I do always ask questions, but some people aren't like that, through no fault of their own, and some people don't have supportive families. So how do they cope?

"All these questions I had lead me to working with the Beacon Counselling Trust.

"Now I'm a Families Link Worker, working on a new project especially for affected others. Alongside free counselling services is a holistic support package where people can attend and experts will signpost people to help, or broker an engagement on behalf of others.

"We're empowering people like me, who felt powerless. That's massive, imagine what that does for your mental health.

It gives you some control back and it means you won't have to be sat on a phone for five hours a day like me."

Poorly understood and under-reported

TV doctor Dr Hilary Jones said: “Despite impacting a significant number of people, gambling harms are often poorly understood and under-reported. This is partially because the impact harmful gambling can have on people’s lives is incredibly varied, complex, and too often hidden.

"Being one of the estimated 1.4 million experiencing harms from gambling could mean you may be struggling with a number of consequences which go far beyond just financial debt, and could include both mental and physical health.”

Zoë Osmond, CEO of GambleAware said: “For many years, the National Gambling Treatment Service has been working in partnership with the NHS and other organisations to provide free, confidential support that is effective and easy to access.

"While we’re proud to have enabled over 200,000 people over the past six years to get the help they need, we know there are many more out there who also need help. Our message to anyone struggling or worried about their loved ones is that you are not alone. If gambling is taking up too much of your life, call the helpline or use the online chat, both available 24/7, and speak to the experts someone today.”

Anyone wanting to get help or support for themselves or another, can contact the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133. The service is free, confidential, and open 24 hours a day.