A recent rise in the number of people seeking help for problematic online gambling may just be the 'tip of the iceberg', an addiction counsellor has warned.
It comes as a new NUI Galway study found half of people who bet through their smartphones become problem gamblers.
The research states that people in a negative mood could be more susceptible to turning to gambling.
It found that "high involvement in mobile gambling is not essentially problematic", and noted that problem and non-problem gamblers "differ in the gratifications they seek" when gambling online.
Michael Guerin, an addiction counsellor who is based at the Cuan Mhuire centre in Co Limerick, told Lunchtime Live that inquiries around their services are up 50% year-on-year compared to pre-pandemic level.
He said there's been a particular spike in inquiries from those concerned about gambling.
He explained: “Given the increases we have seen in inquiries over the past number of years, but in particular since the COVID lockdown became a factor, we’re not surprised at all with the claim that as much as 50% of people who gamble online on a regular basis can progress to problematic levels.
“Our concern would be the people contacting us seeking help or advice regarding a loved one could be the tip of the iceberg… we have serious concerns there may be a growing issue.
"Some of it would have been endemic in the first place, but it’s been seriously exacerbated by the lockdown."
'Secretive and surreptitious'
Mr Guerin said one of the issues is that online gambling is a "secretive and surreptitious pursuit", meaning someone may reach a crisis point before admitting they're in trouble.
He said: "That crisis point tends to be far beyond what you would see with substance misuse or addictions.
“Gambling and in particular online gambling are habits that are far easier to hide, because they do not involve drunkenness or intoxication of any kind.
“Somebody could gamble an unholy amount and it may not be apparent at all to the people around them.
"Problematic online gamblers are able to hide their habit for longer than people who might be addicted to something that’s chemical in nature."
He said the secretive nature may mean someone is a 'far more serious' situation when they do eventually come forward for help.
He said it's a good thing that people are seeking help, but there's a concern that there's a 'critical mass' of people out there who haven't come forward yet.
There have previously been warnings that children as young as 15-years-old are losing “vast amounts of money” through online gambling in Ireland.