Once mired in six-digit debt, former gambling addict now shares his story to help others like him

When Alex (not his real name) was 14, his friends introduced him to illegal football gambling through bookies.
When Alex (not his real name) was 14, his friends introduced him to illegal football gambling through bookies.ST PHOTO: STEPHANIE YEOW

SINGAPORE - When Alex (not his real name) was 14, his friends introduced him to illegal football gambling through bookies.

"We thought, wow, we can make money out of this, it looks simple and easy," he said.

Little did he know then that it would be the start of a decades-long addiction to gambling that he would try to quit several times, yet come back to each time.

At his lowest point, he was in a six-digit sum of debt, having borrowed from friends and family and "literally everyone I knew" for the purpose of gambling, he said.

Alex, now 37, is still going through counselling and is part of a Gamblers Anonymous support group at We Care Community Services. He is working as a safe distancing enforcement officer and volunteers with We Care to share his story of overcoming a gambling addiction.

But he knows that the temptation from gambling may never fully go away.

"It's probably going to be a lifelong thing since I did it for more than 20 years. It is easy to stop but difficult to stay stopped," he said.

Alex said that he first tried to quit after serving national service when he was 22, as he had lost a large sum of money and had to be bailed out by his parents.

He tried to quit on his own, telling himself to just stop gambling and not to do it.

"I didn't realise I was having an addiction problem. I thought I could just stop gambling whenever I wanted, like anybody else," he said.

In 2019, at the lowest point of his life, he was admitted to the National Addiction Management Service at the Institute of Mental Health, where he first got to know of We Care, which ran an outreach programme there.

"I realised it was no longer a problem I could solve by myself and I needed professional help," said Alex.

After he was discharged, the counselling sessions and the Gamblers Anonymous group helped him to stay away from his old addiction.

"It is at these places where I can tell others, 'Eh, I felt like gambling again today, but I did not'. And they will be open and try to help," he said.

"These people I had never met before understood my problems more than my closest friends or my family."

His advice to others struggling with a gambling addiction is to be truthful and ask for help, and be willing to accept it.

His relationship with his family that had been strained due to his debt and addiction is slowly improving.

"My mum is very happy for me to stop gambling, she says she can see a difference in me."