I’m an NHS psychiatrist – this is my advice to football fans who gamble during the World Cup – Big Issue

I’m an NHS psychiatrist – this is my advice to football fans who gamble during the World Cup – Big Issue

With the Qatar World Cup coming during the cost of living crisis, Dr Max Pemberton has some words of advice for people who will be gambling

The World Cup in Qatar coming during the cost of living crisis could be an issue for people gambling, says Dr Max Pemberton. Image: Rhett Lewis on Unsplash
The Qatar World Cup is here and whether you are a season ticket holder or fair-weather fan, football brings people together. Those nail-biting 90 minutes are a time for unity, celebration and fun.
As friends gather to cheer on England’s squad from over 3,000 miles away, many fans at home are also grappling silently with a different, all-encompassing obsession: gambling.
Recent data released by GambleAware – the UK’s leading charity working to keep people safe from gambling harms – found that 43 per cent of football fans plan to bet during this year’s World Cup. A high, but perhaps not wholly surprising statistic. But if you consider that the majority (61 per cent) of football fans think that there are too many gambling adverts in international tournaments, and 39 per cent of fans who are likely to bet during the World Cup say that financial pressures may drive them to gamble more than they intended – there is certainly cause for concern.
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With the cost of living crisis and the sheer volume of matches and gambling promotions during the weeks ahead, football fans could be at an especially high risk of experiencing gambling harms this winter.
As an NHS psychiatrist who has worked with patients experiencing gambling harms, I have seen how they can affect anyone, no matter your background – not just financially, but in terms of mental health and many other impacts. And I’ve seen many people experience that sinking feeling of regret, stress and anxiety that people can experience after making an impulsive bet.
If you are considering betting during the upcoming tournament, there are plenty of ways you can enjoy the football and avoid ‘Bet Regret’. Before football fever takes over the nation, I recommend taking a bit of time this week to think about how you’ll manage your gambling over this period, starting with some simple steps you can take to protect yourself.
You might see gambling as harmless fun, but you can easily get carried away. To help prevent things from spiralling out of control, try setting a time or financial limit before you start betting. Decide what your limits are and stick to them. If you find it hard to stick to a self-imposed limit, try using an app or website to help.
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It can be tempting to keep betting after a loss in attempt to win your money back, even if you have exceeded the limit you have set yourself. Walk away! Chasing your losses will usually just lead to bigger losses. 
With so much football to come, and so much promotion around gambling, you may be worried about how you can avoid temptation to bet. You can always block notifications from betting apps – or even deleting them altogether.
Taking a moment to reflect on how you feel can help you to make the best decisions about whether to gamble or not. It can be easy to bet as a distraction, or to escape something else, but this can make things worse.
Drugs and alcohol make it harder to stick to your limits. If you are under the influence, tell a friend or family member about your gambling and limits, to help you stick to what you have decided. 
I know just how quickly a seemingly innocent betting habit can escalate into an acute problem – this can happen to anyone. So if during the World Cup, you find yourself losing track of time while betting, spending more than you can afford, or betting in secret, these are early warning signs – and now is the time to seek support.
By following this advice and being aware of your habits, you can enjoy the World Cup without the stress or anxiety that can come from getting carried away gambling.
If you are concerned about your gambling, or that of a loved one, you can visit BeGambleAware.org for free, confidential advice and support. The National Gambling Helpline is also available on 0808 8020 133 and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Max Pemberton is a medical doctor, journalist and author. He works full-time as a psychiatrist in the NHS.
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