A MAN whose life was almost wrecked by a serious gambling problem has told his harrowing story in an effort to help those affected by what is now believed to be a growing problem in South Lakeland.

Jonathan Cooper has courageously spoken out about how his compulsive gambling problem had a devastating effect on his life, causing him financial ruin, a break up in his relationship and even an attempt to take his own life.

But after help from volunteer group Gamblers Anonymous, (GA) he has rebuilt his life and has now just passed 800 days since his last bet.

And he has now vowed to dedicate himself to helping others in a similar position with his ultimate aim being to set up a group in the South Lakeland area where gamblers can go for help.

"People can ridicule me for doing this, but I'm stronger inside now and I want to help others," he said.

"If I can save one person's life in the future by listening and advising them, then I've succeeded."

Mr Cooper, 45, has linked up with fellow former gambler Terry Kilgariff, who has already set up help groups elsewhere, and hopes to work together with him to establish a group in this area.

And he has also enlisted the support of MP Tim Farron, who confirmed that growing numbers of constituents have contacted him for help over gambling issues.

Mr Cooper, who lives in Windermere, recalled how he was just eight years old when he first experienced what he described as the "buzz" of gambling when a relative allowed him to press a button on a gaming machine.

He won the jackpot and the machine burst into colour and noise, and the experience had him hooked.

"The bright lights drew me in," said Mr Cooper.

He went on to describe how it was in adult life that the compulsion really took hold.

Mr Cooper had an otherwise normal and successful life, being a family man, serving for several years in the armed forces and also being a keen sportsman.

But all the time, his addiction was destroying his life.

"I sold possessions to gamble and I lost relationships, and all because I needed to bet," he said.

"I took out loans and I became a compulsive liar.

"The buzz turned to an urge to bet and I had turned into a compulsive gambler.

"It didn't matter if I won. I would lose it again.

"I had become my own worst enemy."

But he decided at that point that things now had to change.

"I'd hit rock bottom," he said.

"I was depressed and I had a breakdown."

With the support of his family, he sought help from GA, and eventually the days without gambling became weeks, then months, and Mr Cooper recently marked that personal milestone of 800 days without a bet.

"I can stand tall," he said.

"We still have discussions and arguments about the effects it has had on us but I'm a better person for abstaining. A better husband, father and friend."

But that is not the end of Mr Cooper's story, as he now wants to fulfil his wish of helping others, both men and women, who find themselves in the same position as he was almost three years ago.

Mr Kilgariff said the organisation with which he was involved, Gambling Harms NW Alliance, had already opened a centre in Leeds and one on Manchester was due to open shortly.

A further 10 are planned around the UK and with Mr Cooper's help, it is hoped to work towards setting up a centre in South Lakeland.

Mr Cooper pointed out that the aim of setting up a local point of assistance came as he had to travel to Preston to his nearest GA meeting, a journey which he believes could discourage those in need of help.

Mr Kilgariff pointed out in graphic terms the scale of the problem and, alarmingly, how it appears to be growing at an increasing rate.

He said surveys indicated there were between 800,000 and 1 million problem gamblers in UK today, but only 70,000 are accessing treatment.

Mr Kilgariff said two out of three problem gamblers were under 30 and one in eight were women.

He added that 60 per cent of all bets were made after 10pm and gambling problems was the second highest cause of suicide in the UK.

"The problem is definitely getting worse," said Mr Kilgariff.

"It doesn't discriminate and you can gamble 24/7 now.

"Online gambling has made the situation far worse and all other types of gambling are just the tip of the iceberg compared to that."

Mr Farron praised Mr Cooper's decision to talk openly about his problem and backed his plan to set up a regional centre to help those affected.

“Over the past 12 months, there has been an alarming rise in the number of people contacting me about problems they have with gambling addiction and how it’s their destroyed lives," said the Westmorland and Lonsdale MP.

“It has become far too easy to gamble away thousands of pounds through just a few clicks of a computer or taps on a phone.

“The advertising is also relentless, whether it’s on TV, radio or plastered on the vast majority of football shirts.

“For far too long Governments of all parties have turned a blind eye to the growing problem of gambling addiction in our country – it’s time we had real action to tackle this nationwide scourge.”

And Karen Evans chief officer of Citizens Advice South Lakes, confirmed the scale of the issue and stressed that young people were at particular risk.

"We are seeing clients who are in debt and have a gambling issues," she said.

"We are aware for anyone seeking advice about their financial matters is difficult and sensitive.

"We are also aware of the importance of building a positive trusting relationship with all our clients and especially for those with a gambling issue therefore we would encourage people to seek advice from us before the gambling issue gets out of control.

"Early intervention can help to reduce the impact not just on individuals, but also on their loved ones and the wider community."

Until a regional group is set up, both Mr Cooper and Mr Kilgariff have agreed to make themselves available at any time for those seeking help.

Mr Cooper's contact number is 07951 788176 and his email is jonoscott125@gmail.com.

Mr Kilgariff's number is 07539 756042 and his email is terrykilgariff1957@gmail.com.