With horse racing and horse racing events, such as the Cheltenham festival comes alcohol. Although that puts the already formed stigma surrounding alcoholism and horse racing, on a pedestal, it’s true. Alcoholism is damaging the sport of horse racing. Similarly, horse racing is regrettably influencing alcohol abuse.
I, John Gillen, unfortunately, have first-hand experience of this link, through years of suffering with a dual diagnosis. Although some may argue that alternative factors cause addiction, which we of course have knowledge of, the pressures and culture of horse racing is a strong contender.
See my experience with both alcoholism and horse racing, along with the influence each have on one another, unfortunately damaging the sport and its intentions.
How can alcoholism and horse racing fuel one another?
Consuming alcohol at a sporting event isn’t new news, especially in the UK. In fact, horse racing is Britain’s second most favoured spectator sport, which naturally involves alcohol.
Horse racing as a standalone sport is branded as strict. From my time as a jockey and a professional trainer, I appreciate the regulations in place for betting, doping and general devious behaviour.
Yet, there’s a strong British drinking culture attached to spectator sporting events, changing the entire landscape of horse racing. As many will agree, the behaviour on the racecourse and of the racecourse is worlds apart.
Of course, alcohol consumption can change an event; it can bring people together; it can transform an atmosphere; and of course, in horse racing, it can help people relax and enjoy its competitive nature.
However, alcohol can also damage an event, which we commonly see associated with horse racing. People do, unfortunately, go above and beyond, for the worst. Here’s where the link between alcoholism and horse racing really takes off, causing behavioural habits for many.
In tandem, horse racing is a sport influencing either highs or lows. There’s no in-between for a true horse racing fan. Through either emotion, alcohol is commonly the selected partner, helping to either celebrate or cope through the experience. It is easy to see how sporting events can influence physical and psychological dependencies on alcohol.
The horse racing culture also normalises alcohol consumption. From my early years in the sport, I found myself copying the behaviours of others, commonly around excess or unnecessary drinking. Hard to break from, those normalised drinking habits can, and unfortunately did for me, turn into alcoholism.
My experience with alcoholism and horse racing
My experience of alcoholism and horse racing clearly paints a picture of the likely link of behavioural habits. Many will argue that horse racing as a standalone influence cannot cause an addiction. Others will believe that the sporting culture demands alcohol consumption.
Yet, through my story, I can go against both opinions, clearly outlining how alcoholism and horse racing can go hand in hand and aggravate each other.
Alcohol wasn’t a part of my life before entering the horse racing world. Yet, as I moved from home at the age of 15, with no restrictions and a party led life, alcohol became a big part of my career and day to day.
Although sports professionals do have a greater likelihood of developing an addiction, along with further nature vs nurture habitual triggers, the key driving force of my alcoholism was from consistent consumption; from the lifestyle I was leading as a professional horse racing trainer.
This behaviour soon damaged my career, my relationships and my self-esteem, plummeting into alcoholism even further.
Within my dark times of homelessness and chronic alcoholism, I also developed a gambling addiction, on horse racing. To me, this is where the connection between alcoholism and horse racing really highlights itself. Through my occupation, I’d developed not one, but a dual diagnosis of alcoholism and a gambling addiction, turning my once known successful life, upside down.
Through my experience with alcoholism and horse racing, I can firmly say that there is a link. The consistent consumption of alcohol accepted and fuelled in my sport, over the years got the better of me.
Yet, it’s important to remember this can be the case for any situation. If alcohol is involved and promoted, alcoholism can progress, as mine did with horse racing,
Living with a dual diagnosis
Living with any degree of addiction can be tough, never mind a dual diagnosis. The feeling of battling through the desire to win money, to fuel my alcoholism, to then drink through the detrimental losses is hard to put into words.
All I can say is that I didn’t realise the impact gambling, alcoholism and horse racing were really having on each other, through a clouded, addiction lead perception.
Yet, it’s this time that made me realise that I couldn’t go on. It’s in this moment that I knew retiring from horse racing, gambling and alcohol consumption was a necessity, my own choice to survive.
Why opening up is vital to overcome alcoholism
Without opening up and completing addiction treatment, I hand on heart wouldn’t be here today. I wouldn’t be 20+ years sober, educating and supporting others through addiction.
By living through denial and using your trigger as a coping mechanism, as I did with horse racing, a downward, life-limiting spiral is probable. Through my experience, I want to urge others to see the little glimmer of hope through the misery of alcoholism.
Although it’s a challenging process, even a long one when overcoming a dual diagnosis, or alcoholism alone, with patience and grit, you will get there. I firmly believe that my struggles with alcoholism and horse racing, and in turn gambling was a life lesson. I now have the experience and insight to help others see the mistakes I made.
I am now the Director of a residential addiction company and have a NAD clinic, both promoting addiction recovery. If you’re battling between the links of alcoholism and horse racing, or any other habit or underlying psychological issue, full drug and alcohol rehabilitation can be achieved.
Look at my journey, John Gillen, once known for his profession, soon followed by alcoholism and horse racing fuelled gambling, to now, educating others on addiction.