IT WAS the "instant relief", the "escape" of the flashing lights which kept Michael coming back to the pokies again and again.

A few years ago he thought he had conquered his problems after successfully addressing a 10 year addiction with alcohol.

But then he developed a taste for gambling.

"It started to consume a lot of my free time, I'd be off to to do something and I'd go past a club and I'd have to stop and put some money in the pokies," Michael said.

"I suppose for me it's about getting away from life because when you're zoned in on a machine you're not thinking about everything else.

"Emotionally when I'm in that, I'm not there. That's what it does, it disconnects.

Michael says his addiction was about "control". Despite having no effective control over the compulsion itself, the limited parameters were predictable - win or lose, with an accompanying emotional response.

It was when he started to habitually use real money gambling apps on his phone that he realised he had a problem.

"When I started doing that, and being deceitful and lying to myself and others - that's when it really hit me," he said.

"It was a bit like a slap in the face that if (I'm) deceiving people like this (I) must have an issue with it."

With the help of a counsellor, Michael looked deeper, and identified anxiety, fear, and self-esteem issues which were driving him to escape.

"Addiction to me is an ineffective coping mechanism... It's looking for an external solution to an internal issue," he said.

He said "gratitude" was the biggest thing that eventually got him through.

Since confronting his addiction two years ago with the help of counselling and a support network, he has met his current partner, had a child, and is almost finished a university degree.

If there's one thing, he could say, there is help available and there is other people going through the same thing.

"I think it's just a matter of reaching out."

In the Northern Rivers, Ballina and Evans Head have the highest number of gaming machines per head of population, with one machine to 34 people.


Identify or admit you may have a problem or be at risk of developing one.

Talk to someone you trust about your gambling.

Call the Gambling Helpline (1800 858 858 - 24 hours) to access support and self-help tools.

Contact a gambling help service such as Gamblers Anonymous or another service in your local community.

See a financial counsellor. After seeking help for your problem gambling behaviours, a financial counsellor can assess your financial concerns and help set up a plan to manage debts.