How lottery dream can turn deadly - Friday 24th of July 2009
Winning the lottery will make you happier, but your life of luxury might be cut short. Excessive partying, with too much smoking and drinking, may cause long-term health problems for many who land the jackpot, research shows.
What economists call a "positive income shock" leads to better mental health, but it also triggers "worse lifestyles". And the bigger the win, the riskier peoples behaviour.
"Lottery wins might not be good for your physical health because you party too much," said Andrew Clark, of the Paris School of Economics, one of the researchers. "Winning big does indeed improve mental health; however, we uncovered counteracting health effects with respect to risky behaviours. Those who win more, smoke more and engage in more social drinking."
The study used data on around 8,000 people who won big-money prizes in the UK between 1994 and 2005. Clark, who will be presenting the research paper at an Institute of Social and Economic Research conference this week, added: "Much work has shown that, in general, higher income is associated with more favourable health outcomes. Our results nuance this empirical fact."
There are many examples of winners who have overdosed on hedonism. Phil Kitchen drank himself to death after winning £1.8m on the national lottery in 1999. At the time, he was an unemployed carpenter and had borrowed £5 from a friend to buy cigarettes and a lottery ticket. He moved to a £500,000 country house in Worcestershire, with a tennis court and a boathouse, but was soon bingeing on whisky and died in 2002, aged 58. The cause of death was given as self-neglect.
When Wayne Thompson won £125,000 through his work syndicate in Bristol in 1999, his drinking became out of control. Occasional weekend sessions, during which he would drink eight pints, turned into nightly binges involving three times as much. When he was down to his last £36,000, he came to his senses and spent nearly all he had left drying out at the Priory clinic.
"Most of the money has gone - but it was fun while it lasted," he told a newspaper in 2001. "Anyway, there are more important things than money."
Dr Dorothy Rowe, a psychologist and author of The Real Meaning of Money, said a sudden windfall could worsen existing problems. "Youve got more money to spend on the things you like, which may be alcohol or cigarettes. When you win a big prize, you dont change as a person. A lot of people dont drink much, simply because they havent got the money. Also, you might think that if you get health problems you will be able to pay your way out of them by going to the best doctors."
Not all winners succumb to a party lifestyle. According to an Ipsos Mori poll of national lottery winners, 55% said they put the kettle on when they realised they had won, while 11% opened the champagne. The survey shows many winners consider themselves healthier after their win, with 27% losing weight, 17% playing more sport and 27% joining a gym.
Julie and Chris Jeffery, from Watford, won £1m in 2002. Both still work - Julie as a part-time cook at a fire station and Chris as a kitchen planner.
"Although we can do more nice things, our day-to-day lives havent changed," said Julie. "If wed given up work, it would be easier to drink more. I like champagne, but Ive found this great gadget - a stopper, so one bottle lasts me five nights."
A winners tale - women, lager and cocaine on a plate
Michael Carroll took partying to a new level when he won £9.7m in 2002.
After his win, the 19-year-old bin man, his then girlfriend Sandra and their baby, Brooke, moved into The Grange, a mansion in Swaffham, Norfolk. They were joined by several of Carrolls friends, who shared his appreciation for strong lager. Within six months, Sandra and Brooke had left, precipitating drug-fuelled parties and demolition derby races on his land.
Carroll, dubbed the "Lotto Lout", described his life of excess in his autobiography Careful What You Wish For. "Almost every night and most afternoons we had the wildest parties. It was full of my mates, women, drink and drugs. We would act like Roman generals. We had sword fights with real swords and drank ourselves into a stupor. The girls would be bed-hopping round the house. We would treat them like servants and they loved it. They served us cocaine on silver platters."
At the time of his win, he was wearing an electronic tag for being drunk and disorderly. He was jailed for five months in 2004 after failing to comply with a drug treatment order.
In 2006, he was sentenced to nine months after a rampage with a baseball bat at a Christian music festival.
He has reportedly blown most of his fortune, and says that, while he regrets the drugs, "I cant say I regret the women".
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