A full house of addiction treatment providers, social service providers and mental health professionals attended the inaugural Irish Harmful Gambling Forum in Portlaoise, on November 9th, 2023. Professionals had a chance to meet, learn, network, and share best practices in the area of gambling addiction treatment in Ireland.
The goal of the event was to invite services across the country coming into contact with people affected by problem gambling, to refer individuals and families for treatment and a range of services offered by Gambling Awareness Trust.
Irish Harmful Gambling Forum - Tom Hayes
Tom Hayes, Chairman of Gambling Awareness Trust Board,opens the inaugural Irish Harmful Gambling Forum, Portlaoise, November 9th, 2023.
The theme of the conference was ‘Trends and Treatments’ covering harmful gambling statistics and treatments for gambling addiction in Ireland. Sessions included
  • Harmful Gambling: Controversies, Debates and Issues, presented by the highly esteemed Distinguished Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University. Professor Griffiths is highly research active and has published over 760 refereed papers, five books, 150+ book chapters, and over 1200 other articles mostly in the area of behavioural addictions (gambling addiction, video game addiction, internet addiction, exercise addiction, sex addiction). He has won 19 national and international awards for his research and dissemination, including the US John Rosecrance Prize (1994), the Spanish CELEJ Prize (1998), the British Joseph Lister Prize (2004), the US National Council on Problem Gambling Lifetime Research Award (2013), and the Italian Premio Imbucci Award (2018).
  • The ESRI Report: Measures of Problem Gambling, Gambling Behaviours and Perceptions of Gambling in Ireland, presented by theDiarmuid O’Ceallaigh of the  ESRI
  • Backing Up the Frontlines: The work of the Gambling Awareness Network, presented by Pam Bergin, CEO Gambling Awareness Trust
  • Service Provision: The Gambling Awareness Trust Provider Network, presented Frances Campbell, S3 Solutions
  • Harmful Gambling Treatments and Recovery: Strategies to Support Those Needing Help, a panel discussion, featuring four Gambling Awareness Trust funded, frontline service providers
Irish Harmful Gambling Forum - Panel Discussion
Panel discussion at the IHGF23, L - R, Marguerita O’Neill, Munster Technological University, Sr. Agnes Fitzgerald, Cuan Mhuire Addiction Services, Lachlan Scott, Helplink Mental health Services, Pauline Campbell, Dunlewey Addiction Services, and Grace Kearney, Family Resource Centres.
Speaking at the conference, CEO Pam Bergin provided an overview of the work of the Gambling Awareness Trust – the services they fund, the CPD educational subsidies they offer, and the research they have undertaken into the growing public health crisis which is harmful gambling. She said: “The purpose of this event is to give attendees an insight into the resources we provide and the range of services across the country to whom they can reach out and make referrals. Gambling addiction is a growing public health issue that requires a government led multi-agency response and we are fully supportive of the funding of education and treatment services through the government levy on the industry, because it is clear that the need in our community grows, year over year.

Recent ESRI research puts the numbers at 130,000 people in Ireland that are impacted by harmful gambling. In the past 3 years we have funded 10,000 counselling sessions and taken 9,000 calls from people in crisis on our helpline. We have directly supported over 2,000 people during that time, and the HSE refers people to our website who visit HSE.ie seeking help”.

Gambling Awareness Trust - Board of Directors
The Board of Directors, Gambling Awareness Trust, L-R: Kathleen Lynch, Former Minister of State at the Department of Health, Michael Culhane, Former Director of Finance, Garda Siochana, Tom Hayes Chair of Gambling Awareness Trust and Former Fine Gael Minister of State for Agriculture, John Forde, Former Garda Superintendent and Private Secretary to the Garda Commissioner, Noel Waters, Former Director General at Department of Justice, Equality & Law Reform, Ireland, Willie Collins, One of Ireland’s foremost and most experienced addiction experts and Pam Bergin, CEO Gambling Awareness Trust

A brave young man spoke at the conference about how harmful gambling had almost destroyed his family. “Oisin” is an Affected Other, the 22 year old son of a person who experienced Gambling Addiction, and is now in recovery.

“My family were all traumatised by the gambling. We all needed counseling and help to understand the addiction, and the person, and our feelings about it all. We were not gamblers, but we struggled as much as my Dad did with the addiction. The support helped him and us so much that we now feel compelled to tell our story. We would not be here and we would not have him without the support we received from Cuan Mhuire”.

Many emerging trends were highlighted by the speakers, including Professor Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University. The scale of the problem is becoming defined, and the recent research of the ESRI was presented and widely discussed. Gambling is moving out of traditional gambling environments like betting shops, becoming technologised, and therefore becoming more accessible because everyone who has a mobile phone can now gamble. The gambling industry is becoming more effective and targeted in their advertising. More women and younger people are getting involved as gambling converges with gaming. On the plus side, the emergence of industry regulation and legislation, and the availability of funding through industry levies and contributions are widely welcomed by experts in the field.
Sr. Agnes Fitzgerald – a veteran Addiction counsellor and Director of Cuan Mhuire Centre said: “Gambling has increased through the years in men and women, young and old. Gambling is now dangerously accessible for people who are vulnerable to it, and has the highest suicide rates of any addiction. The funding we receive from Gambling Awareness Trust enables us to provide badly-needed support at the frontlines, and without it, people would die. It’s as simple as that.”

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