Spotlight on ARA: The Bristol-based charity helping gamblers this week and beyond

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By Sebastian Topan, Second Year, Law

To mark Safer Gambling Week, Epigram showcases the Addiction Recovery Agency (ARA), a Bristol-based charity who support those in need, when the fun of gambling turns into something much riskier.

Safer Gambling Week, which commenced Monday and runs from 19–25 November, is an initiative which highlights and raises awareness of the overlooked addiction of ‘problem gambling’.

Prevalent in university students in particular, as well as in wider society, this pastime is a cause of growing concern. A survey in 2019 by the National Union of Students (NUS) noted some especially worrying statistics, finding that around 59% of students had gambled within the last year.

More concerning, of these students, 1 in 8 students admitted to betting more than they could afford to lose, whilst 50% of students who had accrued debt had done so in excess of £1,000.

When commonly in receipt of the largest some of money at a stage in a young person’s life, via their student loan, university students are particularly prone to falling into even further trouble. In fact, the NUS survey noted that 1 in 10 students owe over £5,000 and have used all or some of their student loan to gamble.

The Addiction Recovery Agency (ARA), who are in fact the national gambling treatment service provider for the West of England and Wales, knows all too well about the prevalence of this often hidden addiction, especially among students.

A survey by NUS found that 1 in 8 students admitted to betting more than they could afford to lose

In an attempt to combat problem gambling among the student community, they have recently teamed up with PROJECT:TALK, a mental health initiative established by two University of Bristol medical students, to raise awareness of its far-reaching consequences and the impact such addiction can have.

PROJECT:TALK’s co-founder and director, Daisy Hewitt, told Epigram: ‘The receipt of a student loan presents the majority of students with a degree of financial freedom they may have never before experienced. This, coupled with a plethora of unfamiliar and exciting opportunities to spend money, can prove to be a dangerous mix for many vulnerable students.

‘The occasional bet is completely harmless for some but can quickly get out of control for others. Gambling addictions can be difficult to see at the best of times, and it's particularly hard to spot red flags in yourself, let alone in a new friendship group.’

With increased free time and potential funds in the wake of COVID-19’s decimation of nightlife, this issue has arguable grown in importance.

It is an especially serious cause of concern when considering there are 2.4 million people in the UK, many of whom students, deemed to be ‘at risk’ of developing a gambling problem.

As PROJECT:TALK points out, these factors which exacerbate problem gambling can have significant ramifications, including on: mental health issues, poor performance in studies, financial difficulties, alcohol or substance misuse, disruption of peer or family relationships and anti-social behaviour or participation in crime.

ARA’s Chief Operations Officer Robbie Thornhill has explained their charity has seen the devastating impact this has had on people, saying: ‘Here at ARA, for well over a decade we have seen the damage that disordered gambling can cause to people from all backgrounds.

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‘There is a sense of shame and guilt attached to problem gambling behaviours which often, the individual can no longer control.  If gambling has started to adversely affect your life, or the life of a loved one, come to us for a free and confidential chat.’

Bristol University is no stranger to confronting problems with addiction. Earlier this term, in collaboration with Bristol SU and Bristol Drugs Project, a new initiative was launched that offers students free testing kits to help reduce the harm from drug use, in a bid to avoid unnecessary fatalities.

It is hoped now, with the collaboration between ARA and PROJECT:TALK, commitment to tackling addiction, whether it be gambling or drugs related, will become realised not just this Safer Gambling Week, but beyond.


If you have been affected by any of the issues within this article, and need support, please know there are organisations out there to support you.

Addiction Recovery Agency (ARA)

To contact ARA, for free and confidential advice, concerning yourself or anyone affected by problem gambling reach out via: 0330 1340 286

Click here for their website, or email: aragamblingservice@recovery4all.co.uk

PROJECT:TALK

PROJECT:TALK provides support to those who are experiencing mental health or wellbeing issues. To find out more information click here or email: info@projecttalk.org.uk

Samaritans

If you are anxious, confused, down, lonely, upset or suicidal you can contact the Samaritans. Contact them by calling: 0330 094 5717

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