Simultaneous cocaine and gambling addiction is a serious health risk. Find out how the two can affect someone’s life and what treatment options are available.

Cocaine is an illegal drug in the United States made from the leaves of the South American coca plant. Cocaine is considered one of the most addictive substances on Earth. Cocaine use is associated with a rise in dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain. This increase can cause both intense pleasure and a strong desire to use more of the drug.

The act of gambling is defined as a deliberate choice to put money or valuables on the line for a desired, yet unpredictable future outcome. There are many overlapping neurological pathways between gambling and cocaine use, particularly related to addiction. Problem gambling is the inability to stop gambling in the face of dire circumstances or negative repercussions. Pathological gambling includes problem gambling characteristics in addition to a lack of impulse control that develops over time.

Article at a Glance:

Cocaine use and gambling addiction activate similar pathways in the brain

The diagnostic criteria for cocaine and gambling addictions significantly overlap

Gambling addiction can co-occur with cocaine use

Co-occurring cocaine and gambling addiction can be treated together

What’s the Connection Between Cocaine and Gambling Addiction?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), a comprehensive diagnostic tool developed by the American Psychiatric Association, there is a strong correlation between cocaine use and pathological gambling. To diagnose a patient with a pathological gambling disorder, they must meet at least five out of 11 diagnostic criteria. Pathological gambling criteria that overlap with cocaine use and other substance use disorders include:

  • Increased tolerance over time
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Escapist behavior
  • Lying/dishonesty
  • Loss of important relationships
  • Biological/genetic factors

When pathological gamblers and cocaine users received brain scans to determine which areas of the brain were active following a gambling reward or cocaine use, the scans showed similar brain regions were activated. Another recent study suggests that the part of the brain that regulates coordination, known as the cerebellum, is hyperactivated in rodent models of human addiction. These results implicate the importance of neural pathways in addiction and pave the way for improved treatment options in the future.

Cocaine Use and Gambling Addiction Statistics

In 2005, an estimated 80% of the United States population gambles at least once in their lives. While the vast majority of people never develop an addiction to gambling, the prevalence of problem gamblers is estimated to be 2-3% of all gamblers. Even less, pathological gamblers make up 1% of the gambling population.

In 2015, 867,000 Americans ages 12 and older met diagnostic criteria for a cocaine use disorder.

As more states legalize gambling inside and outside of casinos, there is a positive correlation with increased gambling addiction, and a negative correlation with the amount of funding states provide to address mental health and addiction-related issues.

Co-Occurring Conditions: Cocaine Use and Gambling Addiction

co-occurring condition is any condition that exists simultaneously with another condition. In a study conducted in 1992, 15% of cocaine users seeking treatment also met diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling. This population exhibited a pathological gambling rate that was ten times higher than the community-at-large. In people living with a cocaine and gambling addiction simultaneously, treatment can be harder, but not impossible.

Signs of a Co-Occurring Addiction

Although more research exists on co-occurring alcohol use disorders and gambling addictions, there are many similarities with cocaine addiction. Gamblers use alcohol or cocaine use for some of the following reasons:

  • To cope with a gambling loss
  • To celebrate a gambling win
  • For addressing feeling shame or guilt
  • For cocaine’s stimulant properties to gamble for longer periods

People living with both addictions reported greater social problems, exhibited more sexually impulsive behaviors and were likelier to attempt suicide.

Treating Cocaine and Gambling Addiction, Together

Each person will need to address their addiction in different ways. Because addictions develop in people based on unique circumstances, there is no universal addiction treatment method. Some treatment methods work better for some people than they do for others. However, there are a variety of general treatment methods for co-occurring gambling and cocaine addiction, including:

Related Topic: Gambling treatment

If you or a loved one live with co-occurring cocaine and gambling addictions, The Recovery Village can help. You can receive comprehensive treatment for these co-occurring conditions from one of our facilities located throughout the country. To learn more about treatment programs, call The Recovery Village to speak with a representative today.

Thomas Christiansen
Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
Navin Ramchandani
Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Navin Ramchandani, MD, MBBS
Dr. Navin Ramchandani is a Medical Doctor, Diagnostician and Owner of R&R Medical Centre in Barbados. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.