The Connection Between Alcohol and Gambling Addiction
Author: Zachary Pottle | Published:
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Understanding The Connection Between Alcohol And Gambling Addiction
For many people, having an occasional drink or playing a scratch off ticket every now and then doesn’t lead to problematic or compulsive behavior. For others, a dependence on alcohol or an inability to stop gambling may occur. These are known as alcohol addiction and gambling addiction, otherwise known as problematic gambling (PG). While it’s more common for someone to have either one addiction or the other, there does appear to be a connection between alcohol and gambling addiction.
When alcoholism and gambling addiction are combined, there can be devastating consequences to a person’s financial, personal, and professional life. Similar to when alcoholism is accompanied by other mental health disorders like depression or anxiety, alcohol and gambling addiction can play off each other and make an addiction worse.
Is Gambling Addiction Real?
The legality and ease at which people can gamble has caused many to be unaware that gambling addiction is a “real,” diagnosable condition. In fact, gambling is one of the more recent additions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the standard classification of mental disorders used by mental health professionals in the United States. Gambling addiction was officially recognized as a mental disorder in 1980.
While certainly to a lesser degree, alcohol addiction faces similar challenges to gambling addiction regarding its recognition. Alcohol is not only widely available but it is also used by more than 80% of the adult population. Since it is so socially acceptable, many people find it difficult to admit to themselves when they have a drinking problem.
The Similarities Between Alcohol And Gambling Addiction
Addiction, whether to alcohol, gambling, or other substances or behaviors, works by activating the reward center of the brain and creating a dependence on a given stimuli. Put simply, when someone does something that makes them feel good, their brain will release dopamine to reward that feeling. Over time, this release of dopamine will cause their brain to seek out those pleasurable feelings, which can lead to dependence and ultimately addiction.
In the case of alcohol addiction, it is the alcohol itself that causes those pleasurable feelings, which then make a person seek out alcohol. While there is no substance involved, research has shown that gambling triggers similar parts of the brain and produces similar, pleasurable effects to alcohol.
In recent years, there has been a growing number of people who report suffering from both alcohol and gambling addiction. While this could be explained several different ways, most addiction experts believe that the similarities between the two is to blame. The mechanisms in the brain that reward an alcoholic when they drink more alcohol is the exact same as those that reward a gambling addict when they gamble.
Because alcohol and gambling addiction share so many similarities, especially in how they interact with the brain, many addiction experts are not surprised by how commonly they co-occur. But, is gambling addiction more prevalent in alcoholics, or is this just a common misconception?
Is Alcohol Use Disorder More Common Among People With Gambling Addiction?
When researchers set out to determine whether alcohol and gambling addiction occur at higher rates together, they compare the amount they would expect to see by chance to that of the actual amount. For example, if alcohol addiction affected 50% of the adult population, and gambling addiction affected 25%, in a group of 100 people you would expect to see about 12 people with both conditions.
If, for whatever reason, researchers were to observe a higher number, say 25, then it would suggest that alcohol and gambling addiction co-occur at higher-than-normal rates. This is precisely what addiction experts and researchers have noticed in recent years: a growing number of people suffering from both alcohol and gambling addiction.
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “Given the relative frequency of both PG and AUD, these conditions would be expected to co–occur in some cases by chance alone. However, there is evidence that disordered gambling behavior and AUD co–occur in U.S. and Canadian residents at a rate exceeding that expected by chance.”
There are many factors that may explain the prevalence of alcoholism among problem gamblers. Some believe the similar reactions that alcohol and gambling have on the brain are to blame, while others point towards using alcohol as a mechanism to cope amidst gambling losses or financial troubles.
Alcohol also lowers a person’s inhibitions, making it much easier for them to make bad decisions such as gambling away their last dollar. Furthermore, people who are struggling with an alcohol addiction will often look to places where they can drink without judgment, such as casinos. This is because many casinos serve alcohol at relatively low costs, and in some locations even for free.
How To Tell If Alcohol And Gambling Have Become A Problematic Pair
If you believe that alcohol or gambling has become problematic in your life, there are many ways you can assess your relationship to the two. First, consider some of the criteria addiction specialists use to diagnose a substance use disorder like alcoholism:
- Have you been increasing both the frequency and amount of your gambling?
- Are you spending more time gambling?
- Have you continued to gamble despite negative consequences?
- Has your relationship with your partner, family, or friends diminished?
- Has your gambling caused you to neglect major responsibilities?
- Have you lost interest in things you once enjoyed doing?
- Have you tried to quit gambling without success?
All these signs point towards a problematic relationship with gambling, which can only become worse when alcohol dependency is involved.
Get The Help You Deserve Today
If you or someone you know is struggling with an alcohol or gambling addiction, the time to get help is now. Despite the nuances and stigma surrounding gambling addiction, there are treatment centers across the country that specialize in treating those with uncontrollable gambling urges. When these addiction are mixed, the result is never good.
Don’t hesitate to get the help you need. Whenever you’re ready, contact a treatment provider today to get started on your journey toward recovery.
Author: Zachary Pottle | Last Edited: November 21, 2022