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Lockdown could be the enforced rehab gambling addicts need, say experts

The lockdown has become a rehab of sorts for some of the country’s worst gambling addicts and is giving many a real chance to kick the habit for good.

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With pokies venues closed, gambling addicts have been forced to take a break. Source: 1 NEWS

Experts say the prolonged closure of all gambling venues has broken the usual pattern of addiction for hundreds of people, who would usually spend hours every week at the pokies.

One recovering gambling addict, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told 1 NEWS the sudden closure had “changed her life” by removing the temptation.

“It sort of gave me a wake up call that I don't want to be this person anymore, I don't want to have to rely on something that is so draining,” she says.

The woman had battled with gambling for 20 years, and had at times gone without food to feed her habit, but is now engaging with support services and proud to say she was two months clean.

“It's almost like, as if, like you've gone into your own rehab really, the only difference is you've got your home comforts, you've got people who love you, who support you.”

The Problem Gambling Foundation says the lockdown has helped around half of its clients and believes the break is a real chance for many to beat their habit.

Communications director Andree Froude says many had experienced an “enormous sense of relief”.

“People who normally gamble on pokies at a physical venue, they don't find the same experience online gambling, and what we've heard from some of our clients is there's just not that attraction there to gamble online,” she says.

“So with pokie venues closed, they've got more money in their pockets, they're not gambling at all.”

The Salvation Army had also seen a similar pattern at its Oasis support programme, saying the break was helping many of its clients to realise they could live without gambling.

But their national director of services, Lynette Hutson, was concerned it could create a “false sense of security” as restrictions lift and venues reopen.

“That return to normality, so to speak, does become a trigger for people to engage more in gambling and those who might be on the cusp of having a problem, being drawn into it,” she says.

“We're worried that we're going to see people almost binging on going to the pokies, going to venues and gambling way more than they intended to, and falling into behaviours.”

They’re now urging all gambling providers to take extreme care to monitor harmful gambling when premises to reopen, saying that responsibility is part of their obligation under New Zealand law.

“It is reasonably obvious to spot, so we would want staff at venues and sites to think about how they could intervene.”

Reopening is a terrifying prospect for the recovering gambler who spoke to 1 NEWS anonymously.

“It's actually really scary, just you saying that makes my lips dry, it makes me think, ‘am I strong enough to not do it? So then your mind will think, ‘just do it once, just do it once, you can do it once, what's once going to do’.”

However, she praised the help of the support services, and encouraged others facing the same problem to get help.

“In six months time, where am I going to be? Am I going to be the same person? If I keep doing what I did before the lockdown, then sure, I'm going to be the same person.”

Now may just be the best chance many get to beat the addiction once and for all.