People with first-hand experience of gambling addiction have been sharing their unique and powerful stories of recovery as part of an innovative new EU-funded programme co-produced by a group of European charities - Extern, Finnish social welfare organisation Sosped, and Spillavhengighet Norge, which supports people with problem gambling in Norway.

Speakers from Finland and Norway joined their Irish counterparts who shared their moving testimonies as part of the Lived Experiences of Gambling, Addiction and Recovery seminar, which took place at Trinity College Dublin to mark the conclusion of a special three-year project funded by Erasmus+, the EU's programme to support education, training, youth and sport in Europe.

Co-produced by the three charities, the Experts by Experience programme aims to train people with lived experience of gambling addiction and recovery who wish to provide supports to others.

This is the first time such a programme has been delivered in Ireland alongside international partners. It is hoped that this will help to enable the voices of ordinary people with lived experience of problem gambling to be included in moves to regulate the betting industry island-wide.

Need for regulation

Currently, there is no regulation of gambling in the Republic of Ireland, although the Gambling Regulation Bill (2022) has passed second stage in the Oireachtas. The Bill, which falls under the remit of the Department of Justice, aims to provide greatly improved protections for gamblers, including children and vulnerable adults.

Barry Grant, manager of the Extern Problem Gambling project, said: “Every day through our work we see the human impact which problem gambling can have on people’s lives. People from a diverse range of backgrounds, each with their own story to tell.

“And we know all too well the stigma which can prevent so many other people from seeking help and support with problem gambling. Yet every one of these people might themselves be able to offer a solution, through their own lived experiences, something which might just resonate with someone else who is going through similar problems.

“Through our participation in this programme, we have learned that there has never been a greater need for more voices to advocate for reform of the gambling industry and improved public health supports to treat and prevent gambling addiction and gambling harms in Ireland.

"We believe that Experts by Experience can - and should - play a vital role in this process, at all levels of policy-making.”

The event included powerful testimonies from people who are on a journey of recovery from problem gambling, including Eoin Coyne, from Youghal, Co Cork, who said: “The Experts by Experience programme cemented my belief that there is a much-needed space to hear the story of those with lived experience. Lawmakers, the media and those in active addiction can only benefit from the knowledge of those who've been there and come out the other side.”

The call for the voices of those with lived experience to be heard at the highest levels has been echoed by Extern’s project partners in the Experts by Experience programme.

Need to include the voices of Experts by Experience

Jenna Mäkelä, from Sosped, said: “Experiential expertise is about bringing forth the voice that is usually not heard in society. How can we develop services and treatment and how can we reduce stigma and shame without the voice of those who have suffered from harm?”

Magnus Pedersen from Spillavhengighet Norge said: “We are happy to have participated in this Erasmus+ project together with SosPed and Extern Problem Gambling. The cross-border experiences have been very useful in producing and implementing an Experts by Experience training programme that can be adapted to the three nations, and others as well."

"Our different cultural and regulatory starting positions in the project have broadened our perspective on how Experts by Experience can be incredible assets on both a personal and a systemic level, whatever the current environment they are working within.”

Among the other key learnings from the Experts by Experience programme have been:-

  • The culture of valuing lived experience in Ireland is far behind that of Norway, Finland and many other countries.
  • Educational progression pathways in Ireland for Experts by Experience are far behind those of Finland, Norway and many other countries.
  • Employment opportunities for Experts by Experience in treatment and prevention services in Ireland are behind Norway, Finland and many other countries.

Stories of hope

Chief Operating Officer of Extern Leslie Ann Scott paid tribute to those who participated in the Experts by Experience programme, saying: “We are very proud to have been invited to take part in this ground-breaking project. Hearing these inspirational stories of recovery brings home just how deep an impact problem gambling can have on the lives of so many people. What resonates most, however, is the strong message of hope which runs through each and every one of these testimonies.”

Leslie Ann added: “We would like to thank our funders Erasmus+ for giving us the opportunity to meet and work in partnership with Sosped and Spillavhengighet Norge on this important project over the last three years."

"We hope that this can help to highlight the value of the experiences of those who are tackling gambling addiction and show that no one who is living with this problem should ever feel ashamed for what they are going through.”