Adam Wood is 23 years old and lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Adam appeared on Sky Sports Racing in November to talk about his own personal experiences with gambling harm and raise awareness. He was also the star of an amazing video on social media where he was surprised by champion jockey Patrick Mullins. Adam writes for YGAM on his personal journey and the importance of education. We’re extremely grateful for the support Adam has given to YGAM.

 My story

I first started gambling when I was 16 but this was simply giving my Dad a few quid every weekend to have a bet on the football. I may have been underage but I never felt there was any harm in what I was doing.

My own situation deteriorated rather rapidly and I found myself battling a gambling addiction for three of the most important years of my life from aged 19 to 22. I remember for a few weeks I was winning almost daily and I couldn’t believe how easy it all was which looking back, that was my biggest regret. I soon went from losing small amounts of money to gambling my monthly wage within hours. Money that I had saved up as a child was disappearing before my very eyes. I was constantly chasing my losses trying so desperately to get some money back.

My gambling was out of control to the point where I didn’t have a penny to my name. I started taking out payday loans to buy food/drink, travel etc but instead, I just gambled it all away. In the space of only a couple of months, I’d gone from being this happy, outgoing lad to now living a life of misery. I felt so alone and so helpless but I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone about this which only saw my situation get worse as time went on.

“I had to create this fictional character around my friends, family and work colleagues to make sure they had no idea.”

I’d been brought up by loving parents surrounded by brilliant family and friends all my life so I absolutely despised the person I’d become. Any self-belief or motivation I had left in me to get some help had vanished. I’d completely given up. I would purposely make my situation worse as a cry for help praying that I’d get caught out forced to then talk to someone about it.

My mental health was at an incredibly low point. Crying myself to sleep, panicking at every single phone call to the house phone or at every single knock on the door. I’d got all these overdue debts piled up that I’d not even attempted to make repayments towards so it was only a matter of time before the debt collectors would be turning up on my doorstep. The walls were closing in with each day but there was no way out from this nightmare.

Relationships lost with friends who I owed money to. I wasn’t going on nights out because I couldn’t afford to. I had created this fictional character around my friends, family and work colleagues so they had no idea what was really going on. This lying became second nature to me which only made me feel worse.  

Recovery

My recovery began on the 21st March 2020 which was also when COVID cases were alarmingly high and nationwide lockdowns were being introduced. I think I speak for most people here when I say how scary those times were but for me personally, it was a blessing in disguise. The combination of sporting events being cancelled and going on furlough from work changed everything for me. This presented an incredible opportunity for me to turn my life around. I can confidently say that whilst it was difficult during those first couple of months, I did everything in my power to stay away from gambling.

I had all the restrictions in place but as good as that was, that unfortunately didn’t stop me constantly thinking about gambling. The urges to revert to old habits were stronger than ever before so keeping myself occupied was my number one priority. Daily walks, home exercising, reading, gaming and I eventually even started running. The running in particular was something I clicked with instantly. I loved the idea of running the same 5k route every day and trying to constantly better my time. I enjoying it so much and on low days, I could head out for a run to clear my head. I kept running for the rest of the year to the point where I set myself a challenge during January this year to try and run 100k. I managed to finish on time with a couple of days to spare!

“I’m pleased to see progress has been made and organisations such as YGAM are doing superb work to raise awareness.”

I’m just over 10 months into my recovery now which is still early days. I’m very much aware of this but that doesn’t take away how happy it makes me feel knowing I’ve got this far. There still isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about either gambling or the person I used to be, but I now use these thoughts as motivation to keep me going on this journey not just for me but for my family and friends. I still have bad days as we all do but the important thing is knowing how to deal with them when they come around.

Education

Growing up, the only education or awareness I received was related to knife crime, drugs or alcohol. Whilst these are all valuable subjects to discuss at a young age, there was nothing about gambling. I’m pleased to see progress has been made and organisations such as YGAM are doing superb work to raise awareness of this issue in schools.

The work the YGAM team is doing is so important for young people growing up in this digital world. I definitely believe the YGAM programme would have benefited me whilst I was growing up. I’ve no doubt in my mind that the time and effort put into talking to young people about this issue will be helping not only the next generation but also their families at the same time. It is essential that initiatives aimed at raising awareness continue to be supported because I worry the topic of gambling can sometimes be overlooked too easily.

Gambling addiction is complex and mental health was a major part of my own experience. We must do everything we can to not only help as many people who are struggling but also focus on preventing future harms through education. We need to make young people understand the links to mental health so I’m glad YGAM resources focus on this. It was also amazing to see someone of the profile of Marvin Sordell support this work.

As video gaming and loot boxes become more and more popular, I think the challenge to safeguard young people is becoming more difficult but even more important. When I see some of these games, it feels almost as if they are trying to encourage kids to gamble as part of the fun. This is concerning and reiterates the need for education on gaming as well as gambling.

“I hope I can continue to share my story and help others in the process.”

In terms of my own mental and physical health right now, I’ve never felt better. I want to use to my to help others so I created a page last month called “The Fun Stopped, I Didn’t”. The purpose behind this is to continue doing my little bit to raise awareness of the dangers gambling can lead to. I also want to support people by highlighting that no matter how bad a situation you or someone you know finds themselves in, there is always time to turn things around. 

The support since setting it up has been incredibly overwhelming and I’m very grateful for that. As I edge closer to that year milestone of life without gambling, I hope I can continue to share my story and help others in the process.

Adam Wood

You can follow Adam – The Fun Stopped, I Didn’t on Twitter – @Adam_TFSID