The NHS is set to open its first gambling clinic for children after research found the number of problem child gamblers had quadrupled in just two years.
An estimated 50,000 children are now experiencing a gambling problem in the UK, according to the Gambling Commission.
The National Problem Gambling Clinic in London will now offer specialist help for children and young people aged 13 to 25 as part of an expansion. The move comes amid growing concern that gambling is being fuelled by online gaming sites and targeted adverts, NHS England said.
Gambling services for adults are also being extended and rolled out as part of the NHS Long Term Plan from 24 June, with clinics opening in the north of England for the first time.
The Commission found that 450,000 people are gambling regularly, more than those who have taken drugs, drunk alcohol or smoked. Hundreds of thousands of people in England have a serious problem with gambling, with an additional two million at risk of developing a disorder, it said.
Although the prevalence of gambling addiction among under 18s is believed to be increasing at a rapid rate, it has long been a problem. HuffPost UK previously spoke to Michael, 34, who first gambled using his pocket money on a fruit machine when he was 11. His habit spiralled through teenage and early adulthood, until it reached the stage where he’d lost more than £500,000.
“They say when the fun stops, stop. That was like telling me to breathe less. I needed to gamble the same way I need to breathe,” he said.
Until now, specialist face-to-face NHS treatment for gambling addiction for people like Michael has been extremely limited, previously only available in London.
Finally, services are being extended across the country as part of the Long Term Plan. Pilot clinics are being launched, starting with a new service in Leeds this summer, followed by Manchester and Sunderland. Numbers are yet to be finalised, but the NHS has said up to 14 new clinics may open.
“The links between problem gambling and stress, depression and mental health problems are growing and there are too many stories of lives lost and families destroyed,” Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, said
He also called on the gambling industry to do more to tackle the problem of addiction.
“This is an industry that splashes £1.5bn on marketing and advertising campaigns, much of it now pumped out online and through social media, but it has been spending just a fraction of that helping customers and their families deal with the direct consequences of addiction,” he said.