Will Halstead has opened up about the gambling addiction that took over his life for more than 10 years (Image: Will Halstead)

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Will Halstead was 19 years old when he placed his first bet.

Working as an auditor at an accountants in his hometown of Huddersfield, he made friends with a group of lads who casually dabbled in gambling.

Will, now 32 and living in Manchester, told The Mirror: “It was the first time I ever really thought about gambling. They were putting on a few bets at the weekend and I thought it sounded like a good idea.”

At first, Will would put the odd quid on a football accumulator on a Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t long before he upped his stakes to a fiver per bet.

“I started betting more within a few weeks but thought nothing of it. I think it was my dad who first said: ‘watch yourself’ but I just brushed it off as a bit of fun,” he said.

But his dad’s warnings were well placed as Will started gambling more and more.

Will says gambling took over his life, to the point where it was all he could think about
(Image: Will Halstead)

“I got hooked pretty easily. It was a physical thing. When £1 didn’t give me excitement anymore, I started betting a fiver. It gave me a rush, and when that went away I looked for other ways to get it back,” he explained.

That’s when Will set on the dangerous path of online casino websites – which were advertised on the standard betting sites he used to place smaller bets on the football.

“I wasn’t patient enough to wait for the outcome of a football match but with the online sites, it was a quick fix because it gave you an immediate rush,” he said.

Looking back, Will reckons this was the point where his habits became unhealthy.

“You could put so much money down in a short amount of time. I’d be waiting to get my wages at the end of every month, and it could be gone in half an hour. That was the point where I realised I was physically addicted to it.”

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Will describes what he sees as four stages of his gambling addiction: The first was gambling for fun, which then led to a physical addiction. After that, he fell into debt which caused stress and anxiety – and the final stage was gambling to distract himself from the problems he had.

“It was escapism from everything else. I kept telling myself I’d stop as soon as I got my money back but deep down I knew even if I won my money back, I’d carry on,” he said.

When Will’s own money ran out, he started borrowing money and taking out loans – claiming he had no trouble being approved by banks.

“I was living with my parents and earning a wage, so they’d throw money at me. Then I’d use that money to cover up what I’d done or I’d use it to gamble more,” he said.

For years, Will was stuck in a spiral of gambling using online casinos, hiding his double life from his friends and family.

As Will took out bank loans to help fund his addiction, he admits he started lying to cover up what he was doing
(Image: Will Halstead)

“You have two emotions. You’re either winning and on a massive high, or you’re losing and it’s the darkest time ever. That became the norm for me. It was taking an enormous toll on my mental health and I didn’t even realise.

“I was living life feeling absolutely elated or really low. Gambling was all I thought about and it put stress on my relationships with people, especially because I was hiding it from everyone.

“I became withdrawn and I lied about everything. I was so scared of people finding out, I even lied about the littlest things.”

Will said at his lowest points, he had thoughts of self harm and suicide because of the pressure he was under.

He continued in this spiral for more than 10 years – and for much of that time, he knew he had a problem.

“I knew I needed help but I didn’t know where to turn to find it. And a part of me didn’t want to get help at all” he explained.

But when Will met his girlfriend, his double life became more of a burden than ever.

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“It was so hard to move on with this secret in the background. It was like I was wearing a mask. I was getting into a relationship but I was hiding so much. I knew at some point I had to stop and move on with my life.”

Eventually, something clicked for Will and he opened up to a few people close to him about his gambling addiction. He paid for cognitive behavioural therapy to help him quit gambling for good.

Although Will says the CBT worked really well to help him give up gambling, he still had hurdles to overcome.

“When you stop gambling, you get your good feelings back – but you also get your bad feelings back,” Will said.

In the months after he kicked the addiction, Will said the emotions “came at him all at once” and he suffered from depression and anxiety.

“It was very sudden. I just couldn’t deal with things and could barely go outside,” he recalled.

Will pointed out a morning when he was getting ready to go to work and he had a breakdown on the sofa. Instead of going into the office, he called in sick and booked a doctor’s appointment.

The doctor put him on antidepressants and he paid to see a therapist.

Will said: “My therapist helped me work out what was going on. We eventually got to the bottom of it and realised I’d been carrying around this shame for what I’d done. I was so angry at myself.”

In time, Will went from not being able to function to understanding the toll gambling had taken on his mental health. He parted ways with his therapist and quit the job he’d been at throughout his struggle with gambling.

He was just getting his life back on track when lockdown hit. But although he had left his previous job, Will kept himself busy by writing a book about his experience called A House In The Countryside.

He also set up an Instagram account, @gam_blog, to document his journey to recovery. In future, he wants to set up an organisation to help other people who are struggling with gambling addictions.

“I’m trying to talk to other people who are coming into recovery. I felt isolated for years and didn’t want to talk to anyone. Now I want to use my experience to try and help others.

“I want to build a recovery programme that works for gambling addiction, to tailor something for people who are like I was,” he said.

Will added he wants to campaign for more awareness of the toll gambling takes on mental health – as he claims he was turned down for CBT and therapy on the NHS.

“I was fortunate to have family around me who could help pay for private therapy, but a lot of gambling addicts are in a pretty bad financial position and can’t afford that,” he said.

Crediting his parents in helping his recovery, Will also wants to raise awareness of the toll gambling addiction takes on the families of the addicts.

Although he hopes telling his own story will help others struggling with addiction to get help, he thinks the gambling industry needs to work harder to combat addiction.

“There’s no environment where people can avoid gambling adverts. They specifically target addicts, tempting them with free bets and bombarding them with emails,” he said.

“Telling my story will give people hope, but the industry as a whole needs to change.”

If you're struggling with gambling addiction, you can call the National Gambling Helpline on 0808 8020 133