Tony Adams, the former Arsenal and England captain, has warned that professional football is facing a gambling "epidemic" and predicted that gaming addiction will be one of the sport's next major issues.
Adams, the founder of the Sporting Chance charity which provides support for current and former professional athletes with mental health and addiction issues, said the majority of current players who come to the clinic are struggling with gambling addictions.
The charity said last year that alcohol and drug addictions have been eclipsed as the most prevalent addiction for sportspeople, with almost half of its clients now receiving support for gambling problems.
Adams told Bryony Gordon's Mad World podcast (which you can listen to using the audio player below): "The new generation [of footballers] can't consume the level of alcohol that I did, and play to that level. It is just not done now.
"In my experiences with Sporting Chance, which is now 21 years old, with most of the people we are getting, if they are current players, it is gambling addiction. Gambling addiction is the one that is pretty much epidemic in professional football.
"In rugby league you have got prescription drugs that are quite prevalent. In different sports, cocaine. But if you are talking about professional footballers, definitely their drug of choice is not alcohol when they are playing."
Telegraph Sport revealed earlier this year that the Government is likely to ban betting sponsors on shirts, amid growing concerns over gambling addiction in the UK.
Last month, Bolton Wanderers cut all ties with betting firms after issuing a statement acknowledging that lives are being ruined by problem gambling.
"Footballers do not stand outside of society," said Adams, who battled an alcohol addiction for much of his playing career. "We are part of it, and it is the same statistics for footballers as it is for bankers, presenters or journalists.
"There is going to be a section of society that wants 'one small bet', that wants to chase stuff. They are going to mortgage their house to pay for a bet, or nick their Christmas money to go and have a bet. It was the case with me, with the drinking.
"There is going to be a section of the current players [who are struggling with addiction]. We are getting it [at Sporting Chance]. On Tuesday we had four guys in the clinic: one rugby league player and three footballers. The current footballer is a gambling addict."
There is also growing concern with the professional game about the rise of gaming addictions among footballers. Both Sporting Chance and the Professional Footballers' Association have said that clubs are now asking for help with controlling the gaming problems of their players.
"I am looking at the people off the field and I think society has still got its issues," said Adams. "There is going to be a gaming clinic, I am sure there is, round the corner. For me, it is all the same illness [addiction]."
Listen to Tony Adams on the new series of our mental health podcast, Bryony Gordon’s Mad World , marking Addiction Awareness Week, using the audio player in this article, or on Apple Podcasts , Spotify or your preferred podcast app.
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