Belfast Telegraph

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How addiction brought a world of secrets, pain and destruction into our lives

 

Northern Ireland footballer Kyle Lafferty recently admitted that his gambling got out of control and nearly cost him his career. Here, Karen Ireland talks to three people whose lives have been devastated by a dangerous habit.

‘Lewis was living a double life ... he had £60k of debt’

Pete Keogh (70) a retired publisher, lives in Enniskillen with his wife Sadie. Their children are Richard (42) and Justin (44). Their youngest son Lewis (34) took his own life four years ago due to a gambling addiction. Pete says:

Our youngest son Lewis had been living in Leeds for three years. He had a great job as a facilities manager and had a company BMW and all the trimmings of a good life.

He had loads of friends, both at work and in his personal life. He played football and seemed to be very happy and settled.

We had no idea he was living two lives and was a secret gambling addict.

In our family we didn't know anything about gambling addiction - that it can be a life-threatening disease - until Lewis took his own life.

It was such a shock and something we have to live with for the rest of our lives. Sadie and I will always live with the guilt that we didn't know what was going on and that we couldn't help our son.

Looking back, we think the seeds were sown when Lewis was at secondary school. He would go into the arcades on the way home from school and play the machines.

When we went on holiday and were on the boat he was always asking for his pocket money to try to beat the machines. He was only about 10 years old. We truly believe it started then.

But we had no idea of the extent of it. No parent should ever have to go through this. There needs to be more awareness about the dangers of gambling.

Unlike drugs and alcohol it isn't discussed as a powerful addiction. The fact that it is hidden adds to the distress.

One day Lewis and I were at a football match together and he turned to me in the stand and said 'Dad, I am an addict. I am addicted to gambling, but it is okay, I can kick it and quit'.

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Still emotional: Pete Keogh with wife Sadie

Because I had no idea of the extent of his addiction, I took him at his word. As a former smoker I thought this was just something he could stop doing.

As he lived away from home we didn't know what was going on in his life. We found out afterwards that even his closest friends didn't know.

After he died, we found out about Lewis's double life. There was the one where he paid his mortgage and stayed on top of his bills, and then the other world where he owed over £60,000 due to online gambling.

Every day since he died has been difficult and Sadie and I are still very emotional about it, but we will do all we can to raise awareness.

We have done a lot of research since and read a lot about the subject. An American study has revealed that the endorphins produced by gambling and the hit that comes with it are similar to those of associated with crack cocaine.

In his final words to us, Lewis told us that it wasn't about the money, it was about the buzz and the hit he got.

We have been to the Houses of Parliament and are campaigning to get the laws on gambling changed.

It is disgraceful that football teams such as Liverpool are sponsored by gambling companies.

I have written to the club on various occasions, but I haven't got any answers. They advertise during games when young children are watching and being influenced. That isn't right.

We have worked with the pressure group 38 Degrees and we have also been working with SOSAD (Save Our Sons And Daughters), which is a suicide awareness group in the Republic of Ireland.

If I could, I would like to work to raise awareness in schools, where I believe much of the exposure to gambling begins.

I would also encourage parents of teenagers to have a conversation with them. Check their phone or iPad and make sure they are not mixed up in something they shouldn't be.

We don't want another person to end up like our son.

There needs to be more education and awareness about gambling. We were totally ignorant, but others can take action now before it is too late."

'We lost our family house ... my mum never got over it'

Bishop of Conor Alan Abernethy lives in Belfast with his wife Liz. They have two grown-up children Peter (30) and Ruth (28). Alan's late father was addicted to gambling which cost the family home. He says:

Addiction almost stole my childhood. I left for school one morning with my brother when I was in P3 and we never saw our house again afterwards.

My grandfather came and picked us up from school and we never went back to our old house.

My poor mother - the bailiffs had come and taken the house away that morning.

It turned out my dad had run up huge gambling debts and we lost our home.

After that we never saw him again and my mum was left to pick up the pieces.

At 50 with two young children she was forced to go back out to work again to pay off his debts - which she did.

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Childhood shock: Bishop Alan Abernethy with wife his Liz

The shock for us as children was dreadful but my poor mum never got over it. She never wanted to speak about it again.

She was blissfully happy, getting on with her life and this came as a complete bolt out of the blue.

We did move house a few years earlier to a smaller one, but mum thought it was to be closer to her parents. We never thought it was due to any financial problems.

That's the trouble with gambling - unlike other forms of addiction there are no obvious signs.

It can be kept hidden until it is too late and it destroys lives. With alcohol and drugs the illness is obvious.

I will always be grateful to my grandparents who we went to live with and aunts and uncles who helped look after us, too.

I did miss dad at certain times of my life - when I was learning to drive we didn't have a car and there was no-one to teach me. Although I traced him later in life, he had died a few months earlier. It is easier to track someone down when there is a death certificate.

I've never bought as much as a Lottery ticket in my life because I was so scared of gambling. I saw first-hand the destruction and havoc it can wreak.

Growing up, though, we never wanted for anything and were really well looked after by friends and family. It is just an awful legacy to be left and I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

'To get my fix quicker I began injecting my pain medication'

Ryan McGimpsey (28), from Bangor, is single and unemployed. He says he became addicted to pain relief medication after suffering a back injury. He says:

I suffered six years of hell due to addiction. It almost destroyed my life.

Things started seven years ago when I hurt my back. I have epilepsy and took a seizure which resulted in broken discs in my back. I was given Co-codamol for the pain but I couldn't bear it so the doctors had to keep prescribing something stronger each time I visited.

I was given Tramadol, which is very addictive, and then morphine - but when that didn't work I was put on Fentanyl which is 80 times stronger than morphine.

Eventually it stopped being about the pain and was more about the way the drugs were making me feel.

The meds made me feel warm and as if I was floating on a cloud. All my troubles went away when I took pain relief.

I was given Fentanyl patches and at one stage I started licking them to get my fix quicker. When that didn't work I started injecting it.

This went on for a period of six years. I became someone I didn't know or recognise. I started lying to get my medication sooner when it ran out, saying it was lost or stolen - anything to get them to give it to me quicker.

In the early days I was able to hold down a job and was working as a chef but it got to the stage I didn't want to do anything. I could barely walk to the end of the street unless it was to get my medication.

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Turning point: Ryan McGimpsey

I lost touch with all my friends as I was always borrowing money from them to buy drugs on the internet.

While I was in touch with my family, I had moved out and was living in a hostel. They couldn't look at me as they knew I was slowly killing myself.

I hated my life and the fact it had just become all about when I could get the next batch of drugs.

Despite this I fooled myself for a long time into thinking I wasn't a junkie buying drugs on the street or online as the doctors had prescribed them for me. Then I would have days when I was going through withdrawal as I was in between my prescriptions.

My back would be really sore initially and then I would have the DTs (withdrawal symptoms). My whole body was sore and I felt sick. It was awful and I knew I was wasting my life.

I knew I needed help and one time, after having injected the patch meds, I phoned my mum to tell her what I had done.

She came and got me immediately and took me to an addiction service. The group arranged counselling for me and I had to see someone every two weeks. However, I lied and was still using.

In the end I got sick of being sick and I couldn't look myself in the mirror any longer so I was admitted to Ward 15 at Downpatrick Hospital.

The team there got me into a programme and this was a turning point. I am now on a methadone maintenance programme.

My advice to anyone misusing any kind of drugs is to stop and get out while you can before one of three things happen: prison, an institution or death.

I am much happier and healthier now, and have the chance at a future. I want to work with drug addicts and give something back, to help.

My life is back on track and I have been given another chance."

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