Gareth Fox

Gareth Fox: Gambling in the GAA

This Case study shows how gambling can separate a player from his team

Name: Client A

Age : 28


Occupation : Teacher

Sport : GAA

Client A contacted me with a gambling problem. He was an ex-County senior with ambitions of being recalled to the squad. He had lost his place the season previous, due to a season ending injury, and wasn’t able to find the form of old. And during his injury lay-off, he had begun to gamble more frequently than normal, until he was gambling everyday, multiple times a day. It’s a very common story, especially during injury layoff.

You see, teams are like tribes. And the desire to stay with the tribe isn’t simply a conscious thing. It’s a pull that has existed since the beginning of man. Your survival, subconscious mind is demanding that you get back to safety any way possible.

Injured, Client A was out of his tribe. While the others were training, he was sitting watching. While the others were stretching out on match day, he took his place first, in the dug-out, then – the longer his injury recovery dragged on – he moved out into the stands. He was moving further and further away from his tribe. The only time he had a connection with them was while drinking in the clubhouse after the games, talking about betting.

Mentally, his injury was taking its toll, and he rushed his recovery, forcing another injury in only his second training session back.

This latest setback led to what he described as a very low point in his life. His private life with his wife was suffering – he was creating a negative, aggressive atmosphere at work, and his playing career was non existent. He stated that the only thing giving him some happiness was gambling and drinking with his teammates.

Looking at his case study, there were many recognisable patterns – all relating to a search for connection and fear of rejection. Many players turn to ‘negative habits’ in order to feel connected. And without realising it, these habits can grow out of control. There are also so many unfortunate cases of players rushing recovery to get back to the team. This is because of a subconscious desire to be back in the group, to feel safe, because the disconnection from injury can have such an excluding effect.

Client A was no different. Firstly, he felt excluded from his county team, then from his club team and community, leaving him feeling lonely, vulnerable and insecure. His subconscious mind, feeling the stress chemicals being released throughout the body, executed the survival program of ‘drinking and gambling makes us feel connected’, subconsciously spurring him on to partake in both activities. It was creating a vicious circle – the more he drank, the worse he felt the next day, the worse his recovery performance, the more his negative self-talk increased, releasing the stress chemical cortisol, switching on the loop that gambling was the solution. Gambling was moving him from pain to pleasure – his brain had downloaded how he felt when he was able to be with his team, and gamble, and was demanding that he do it at every opportunity.

You see, the purpose of an addiction is to resolve overwhelming helplessness. It is anything negative that moves you away from a bad feeling towards a good feeling. It is perfectly normal for us to seek to regain control over our lives. Everyone does it.

However, addiction is a different, harmful way. Client A was using gambling to try to move towards a good feeling – the feeling of connection with his peer group, his team. But he was moving away from a feeling that needed to be felt. Feelings are indicators of our environment and they have a chemical reaction in our bodies. Positive feelings produce positive chemicals (serotonin/dopamine), negative feelings produce negative chemicals (cortisol).

Addiction blocks an unspeakable truth – that there is something in your environment that is causing you emotional pain. And if you don’t have the possibility or knowledge of how to express those feelings, then you will look for ways of moving you from that negative feeling towards a positive one. The need for something so as to not feel whatever you are feeling. Even the thought of gambling was enough to release positive chemicals in Client A’s body.

With Client A, it simply wasn’t enough to do a hypnotherapy session on not gambling – gambling was an action caused by his own thoughts about his environment. We worked on how he dealt with his environment, and how he felt about himself and the stresses involved around his injury and his losing his place on his county team. And he has been free from gambling addiction for more than six months.

Addictions like gambling must be cured at the root. It is simply not enough to take away the habit, you have to deal with the cause.

For more information on dealing with Gambling or any other addiction visit or

Gareth Fox is a qualified RTT Hypnotherapist and Peak Performance Coach who works with inter-county footballers. In this new monthly column, he will provide advice on the difficulties of confinement and offer ways to improve peak mental performance. For information on guided meditation or hypnosis audios contact

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