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When will we face up to the life-destroying gambling culture ruining young lives?

I LIKE a flutter on the gee-gees as much as the next man. I attend a couple of race meets a year and usually stick a pin on a horse for the Grand National.

Every week I spend a few euro on the National Lottery. I might also buy a scratch card from time to time.

That said, I'm nowhere near being a gambling man. It's just a bit of harmless fun for me, as it is for most people.

But there is a darker, more sinister and destructive side to this activity that is anything but harmless or funny.

That is, of course, when gambling becomes an addiction.

It was reported this week that approximately 100,000 Irish people suffer from a gambling addiction.

Equally shocking is the proportion of these people who gamble online. The vast majority of online gamblers are under 25 and start their habit on a smartphone.

Logic dictates that many of these addicts must be in their teens.

Two of the countries top addiction centres, Aiseiri and Cuan Mhuire, have seen a 20pc increase year on year in the numbers seeking treatment for gambling addiction.

Online and youth gambling is clearly driving these increases. And handheld devices are making it so much easier to slip into addiction.

Many people gamble online 24/7, in the privacy of their own homes, on smartphones and tablets, sinking deeper into debt. By the time they hit rock bottom and seek help for their addiction, they have already lost their job, their home and their family. Some turn to theft or even self-harm.

Witness the case of the An Post manager Tony O'Reilly, who stole €1.7m from postal accounts in 2011 because of a gambling addiction.

Even more tragic is the recent case of Tyrone footballer Cathal McCarron.

Battling serious gambling, he left Ireland for London. He was in the headlines recently after it emerged that he made a gay porn video to pay off the relatively small sum of €2,000.

McCarron's not the only young GAA player who has battled gambling addiction. Armagh player Oisin McConville admitted a few years back that his habit had led to debts of €120,000.

And there are many, many more cases of young men in serious debt.

Gambling, particularly the online form, is an insidious Pandora's box which, when opened, can be very difficult to close.

It preys on the weakness and frailty of human nature, something that is present to some extent in all of us.

It appears that Ireland is now in the throes of an online gambling epidemic. Much of it is hidden – for now – but the tragic effects will eventually emerge.

What can be done to combat this growing social and health problem?

Is it time for the Government to strictly regulate gambling ads like they've done with other products in the past?