The number of people treated for gambling addiction in Ireland reached record levels last year.
New figures, released by the HSE, show that addiction units last year dealt with at least 257 cases where the patient’s number one problem was gambling.
That may be just the tip of the iceberg, as the HSE said the figures only include cases that were reported to the National Drug Treatment Reporting System (NDTRS).
It noted that reporting is optional – with the services that take up the option generally doing so to “use the data for their own purposes.”
The figures were supplied to Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly on foot of a Parliamentary Question.
Professor Colin O'Gara, Head of Addiction Services at St John of God Hospital in Dublin told Newstalk that gambling is now “far too accessible,” especially for young people.
“We are seeing young people losing their salaries within a day,” he said. “That can be several thousand Euro.
“We are seeing people racking up tens of thousands of debt, into the hundreds of thousands.
“Really the losses are hugely substantial and it causes great devastation to people and their families.”
He said people often start to gamble as early as 12-years-old.
“If there is a culture of gambling within families kids can be introduced at any age,” he said.
“It is too available, gambling is too accessible and certainly our young people – in particular adolescents and young men – are most heavily affected by that.”
He said young people rarely have access to the funds needed to feed a gambling habit and, as a result, can resort to crime.
“Really wherever people can get access to money, as part of this illness, they will steal,” he said.
The NDTRS began collecting data specific to gambling in 2010.
The lowest-ever number of cases was recorded in 2011 when there were 181 reported.
In 2017, there were 219 cases reported.