'Harry' is 44 years old and has a serious gambling addiction. It started when he was 17 and it has had a terrible effect on every part of his life since then.

“I started with 50p bets, then a few pounds, then hundreds, then thousands. At first it was horses and dogs, then it was football and poker. In the end I started going to casinos and putting on big bets. One time I won a six-figure sum, which you’d have thought would solve all my problems. But to me it was only gambling money, bigger stakes for bigger bets. And it was all gone within three weeks.”

For most of his life, up until his first meeting with Gamblers Anonymous in 2001, 'Harry' didn’t know that such a thing as gambling addiction existed. Gambling is a clinically accepted illness – just as powerful as alcoholism or drug addiction and every bit as damaging to peoples’ lives.

Adding to the difficulties of his gambling addiction, in 1988, 'Harry' was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, an extremely debilitating mental health condition in which people suffer extreme ‘polar opposite’ swings in their state of mind – known as manic and depressive episodes. These emotional highs and lows fed the highs and lows of winning and losing.

"To me, gambling was a drug in itself. I found that if I was high, bipolar high, I’d gamble even more, and when I did have big wins – which came every so often – it would feel like everything was going my way. But when I was depressed, I couldn’t differentiate the depression I was feeling because of being bipolar, from the depression I got from losing."

These ups and downs – wins and losses, became the defining mark of 'Harry’s' life. Since being diagnosed, he’s been hospitalised more than thirty times. He’s been in huge debt, suffered great stress, lost good jobs and destroyed important relationships as a result of these two illnesses.

"My partner asked me to leave because of it [gambling]. She’d have to hide money and stuff, because if there was cash in the house, I’d take it, and I was selling things for money too. I’ve lost everything. And the greatest loss of my life isn’t the hundreds of thousands I’ve gambled away – it’s the lost time… from my family, my partner, my daughter. I fell out with my parents. No one in my family wants to have anything to do with me. And it’s brought me to the streets."

On Christmas Eve, 'Harry' was staying with his aunt. He was helping to paint and decorate her house and was paying his own way. He was taking his medication, and at the time, he wasn’t gambling. Following a family row, he found himself homeless.

"Just before Christmas my brother came around. He wanted me out. He said: ‘You shouldn’t be here. You’ll only cause her pain.’ He convinced my aunt that she’d get caught up in my problems too because I was staying with her. And he persuaded her to throw me out. That’s how I found myself wandering around on Christmas Eve with nowhere to go."

Fortunately 'Harry' found his way to the doors of Cork Simon Community. Initially, he spent two weeks in the emergency shelter before moving to Gateway, one of Cork Simon’s high support houses. Gateway has given him the stability and confidence he needed to address both his mental health condition and his gambling addiction. Cork Simon has helped him to access and maintain contact with psychiatric services and to attend his Gamblers Anonymous meetings regularly. Gateway offers 24-hour support from trained staff and volunteers so there’s always someone on hand for him to talk to if he’s experiencing depressive or manic episodes.

"I’ve stayed clean in Simon. Now that I’ve got the support I need, my life is two-hundred percent better. I accept the fact that I have two illnesses. I have to take medication for the rest of my life to mind one, and the only medication I need for the other one is to keep going to my Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Things are going well for me at the moment… I’m looking forward to spending time with my daughter and I’ve got a job interview coming up. This is a big step from where I was six months ago.”

People’s names and place names have been changed to protect anonymity.