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Talking to: addiction expert Liz Karter Level Ground's founder on gambling addiction

levelGroundTherapy 810x456 - Talking to: addiction expert Liz Karter

Liz Karter started her career as a psychotherapist in 2001, treating both men and women with addictions. She’s now a leading expert in the field of gambling addictions. An author of two books (with a third in production), she’s made appearances on news shows and guest-written for various outlets over the years.

Her books reflect her specialism, with titles including Women and Problem Gambling and Women’s Groups for Problem Gambling. Currently, Liz heads Level Ground Therapy, a London-based clinic specialising in services for women with gambling addictions. While offering individual therapy in a multi-disciplinary office, she also facilitates weekly women’s groups – a support network where clients come together to share stories and advice.

At the heart of Liz’s practice lies the belief that all addictions are the result of an underlying stress, often stemming from interpersonal relationships. Whether a stressful job or unhappy marriage is to blame, addictive behaviour occurs as a coping mechanism for the primary problem. “Healthy escapism is essential to life, and addiction starts simply as that,” says Liz. “It just gets out of hand.”

Healthy escapism is essential to life, and addiction starts simply as that – it just gets out of hand

She offers holistic techniques to uncover, understand and resolve the root of the problem, reducing the risk of relapse in the process.

Addictive gambling manifests differently in men and women, Liz says, but provides the same feelings of escapism. She finds that men tend to seek the excitement and high from gambling that lifts them above their problems. Therefore, addictions are common in fast-paced environments such as casinos, table games or horse races. Women tend toward calmer practices that induce a sense of “zoning out”, like online gambling or traditional slots.

A common impediment to recovery in women that Liz finds lacking in male therapy is the notion of guilt. She explains, “Women come burdened with guilt at their behaviour, which sends them into overcompensation.” This often creates the same stress that triggered the initial addiction.

Common triggers, Liz says, include a deficit or surplus of strong, supportive relationships. For working women under a lot of stress in the City, the combined additional stress of mothering and supporting a stressed, working husband can often be too much pressure to bear. Liz also sees a lot of international clients, who lack a close network of friends and family. Cut off from expressing their stress in a healthy way, they depend on gambling, drinking or other substances to take away the edge.

City living can create the relationship deficits that often lead to addictive behaviours. Long hours, demanding jobs, and little time for proper social interaction (unfortunately, social media doesn’t help) leave people in stressful situations with a lack of supportive network on which to lean. At her London office, Liz sees a high proportion of middle class professionals whose stresses are a mix of demanding jobs and the pressures of home.

Liz understands addictions from the perspective of the “inner child”. Knowing that issues in one’s past can affect their present, she sees addiction as their emotional reaction to a stressful situation. Therefore, her therapy works at empowering clients to understand the “why” of their response, and bring change. “Whatever the stress is pokes our inner child into action,” Liz says. “That part of us is going, ‘I’m scared; I can’t cope,’ and so it starts the addiciton. It’s learning to respond from our rational adult self rather than the reactions of the inner child.”

It’s learning to respond from our rational adult self rather than the reactions from the inner child.

Liz Book - Talking to: addiction expert Liz Karter

When working in-house at large organizations, Liz says she experienced increasing pressure to fix addictions in a shorter time period. Therefore, she was restricted to working with surface behaviours instead of root issues, and found many clients would relapse, or return with a crossover addiction to a new substance. As an independent practitioner, she now finds that 98% of her patients who stay until ready to move on report that they’re free of addictions and crossovers a year after leaving her practice.

Liz believes that addiction stems from poor emotional management. “If you find that consistently when you’ve had a bad day, you’re turning to drinking, smoking, gambling or drugs to try to make yourself feel better, then you should keep an eye on that. Keep all of those things for when you’re feeling good, and associate them only with positive feelings. If we’re doing these things because we already feel good, we’re much more likely to keep it on a moderate level.”

Read more about Level Ground here.


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