I gambled my student loan away in 24 hours and lost £40,000

‘It ended up taking over my whole life’

Gambling is becoming increasingly prevalent at university and new research shows that one in five students are using their student loan to fund their gambling habit.

The effects of a gambling addiction can be devastating, and no one knows this more than Bray Ash – who predicts he lost around £40,000 to gambling when he was a student.

Bray’s addiction to gambling really took off when he got to university in Manchester, he said. Growing up, he would place small bets here and there on sports matches and lotto tickets, but he didn’t realise until later in life that this is where it all began. “At 16 I got a fake ID and from there my gambling habit just started going up and up”, he said.

“The transition from school to university was really difficult for me”, Bray told The Tab. “I would go from being really busy playing sports and seeing friends to having six contact hours a week. Suddenly I had all this time, more money and no structure, and so I ended up using all my time to gamble.”

Bray’s gambling became far more frequent as the term went on: “I wouldn’t go to any of my lectures – I’d just sit in my room and gamble. I wasn’t doing the normal uni thing and pretty much every night I went out, I’d end up at a casino.”

Bray’s gambling addiction started to take a toll on his mental health, he said. “I just lost loads of weight and was feeling depressed pretty much all of the time”. After a year at Manchester, he decided to transfer to Leeds where he hoped the situation would get better.

Unfortunately, things only got worse. Bray told The Tab: “when I got to Leeds I started drinking, which I had never really done before. So between that and the gambling, I probably spent nearly five or six grand in my first term alone.

“In my second term, I gambled my student loan away in 24 hours. That was probably the biggest low.”

Bray managed to graduate from the University of Leeds, but not without significant costs he said. “Far more than the money, I feel like I just completely missed out on the whole uni experience. I didn’t do any of the things you’re meant to do when you’re young and that’s probably what I regret the most”, he said.

While at university, Bray told The Tab that he often tried to seek help by going to counselling sessions at uni. “It just wasn’t enough”, he said. “I feel like universities are aware of student drinking and drugs, but gambling is a whole other ball game – maybe the worst out of all three.

“You can be doing it without anyone else knowing and it’s really easy to spiral downwards. I think it needs to be spoken about much more and more awareness needs to be raised, because it can be really really detrimental if you do it excessively.”

Bray finally overcame his addiction in 2018 when he entered a full-time rehab facility. He now works with a charity called Peer Aid, where he helps to support others with gambling addictions. “It’s been a wild journey”, he said, “but I’m trying to turn a negative into a positive”.

Bray is planning to go back to university in September, where he will be studying mental health nursing at King’s College London. “I felt like I wanted to give uni another go and this will help me towards helping others in the future”, he said.

Fiona Palmer, chief executive officer of GAMSTOP, urged students who are still struggling to seek support where they can.

“Gambling-related harm on our campuses is a subject that is rarely addressed, but for any students experiencing problems with their gambling, self-exclusion can give them valuable breathing space whilst they seek additional help,” she said.

“With online gambling increasingly prevalent during the pandemic, the research shows the importance of raising awareness of a free online self-exclusion service, which is accessible to all.”

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in the article, the NHS offers support for problem gambling. Other support services include Gamcare and BeGambleAware.

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