More and more women in Ireland are falling victim to gambling addiction due to the surge in popularity of online betting.

Clinical director of the Rutland Centre, Fiona Weldon, said females now make up one in five, or 20 per cent, of the number of addicts seeking who turn to the Dublin-based charity for help.

Just four years ago her clients were predominantly male, with women making up just four per cent of those being treated for gambling addiction.

But she said women are increasingly seeking treatment, as gambling has since branched out into many new sectors outside its traditonal male-dominated sporting base, while the explosion of online betting it is far more accessible than it ever was.

She said: "We're seeing many clients now with multiple types of gambling problems. Traditionally you could only gamble at the bookies and just on sport, but all that has changed.

"There's online bingo, poker and casinos and it's all so accessible and it's these activities that the women with gambling addictions who we've seen tend to do. It's there at the click of a button on your phone or on the internet."

Despite the increase across both sexes in the problem, gambling addiction remains largely misunderstood and extremely difficult to overcome, according to Rutland.

Yet she said the reality is that of all types of addicts including those with drink and drugs problems, those who are hooked on gambling are both the hardest to detect and the highest suicide risk.

She explained: "Like any addiction, it's a chronic and relapsing condition with no known cure. It's very challenging for anyone coming out of recovery, because they need to take measures like disabling the internet on their phone.

"It is also an addiction that people can hide for longer periods, even years. But when it is found out, it usually all blows up and can destroy a family unit. In the worst cases, a family home may need to be sold to pay for all the gambling debts."

Weldon said she had recently treated a 25-year-old man, who had amassed gambling debts of over €500,000.

And she warned cases like this will only increase due to a lack of regulation of the industry and because of the recession - which has seen more gamblers looking for quick-fix wins to solve their financial woes.

She added: "All addictions, including gambling, increase in a recession. It's another way for people to escape from the problems in their daily lives."

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