The thrill of gambling can be a much bigger problem when substance abuse is present.

Taking a celebratory trip to a casino for your 18th birthday or playing a few slots on your Las Vegas vacation may not present much of a problem. Millions of Americans that visit Las Vegas each year can enjoy the light-filled vacation and do not live with a gambling addiction. However, for some people, the thrill of gambling can be a much bigger problem.

Most casinos around the United States offer free drinks to those patrons who are spending their money at the tables or slots. This can be problematic because like substance abuse, gambling addiction is considered to be a compulsive disorder.

Effects of Drug Abuse on Compulsive Gambling

Gambling addiction may be linked with other mental health disorders.  A high co-occurrence is often found between gambling and depression, mood disorders, anxiety disorders and some personality disorders. Gambling addiction also has high co-existence with substance abuse. According to this study when someone is diagnosed with a gambling addiction, they commonly have an additional diagnosis of substance use disorder.

When addiction to gambling and substance abuse co-occur, crime can follow. When a person who has an addiction to drugs and gambling loses their money at the casino, they may turn to crime, like theft, to sustain their drug addiction.

Research examining the relationship between gambling addiction and substance use indicates that the most commonly abused substances by people struggling with gambling addiction include alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and stimulants.

Statistics on Gambling and Substance Abuse

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health finds that around 8 million American adults have co-occurring disorders. In 2009, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that 23.5 million people were dependent on drugs and alcohol. Individuals who drink or use drugs to escape problems in their lives, or the shame, guilt and loss that their gambling habits inflict, likely have a substance abuse problem.

People with substance use disorders are at an increased risk of gambling addiction. Likewise, people who are addicted to gambling or substances are already predisposed to thrill-seeking behaviors.

Alcohol and Gambling

The American Psychiatric Association states that gambling addiction may be a cause of someone developing substance use disorder. The association between alcoholism and a gambling disorder also reflects the availability of alcohol in casinos and other venues that gamblers frequently visit.

Someone who is addicted to gambling and alcohol may drink to ease their nerves before a big game of poker or blackjack. As they continue to drink, their ability to reason decreases. Their chips may begin to stack up and they feel nothing could go wrong. However not knowing when to quit can lead to a significant financial loss. Someone with a gambling and alcohol addiction may feel another round of drinks could help to ease the pain and anxiety associated with their potential gambling losses. In this setting, drinking can go from a casual social activity to an addiction.

Data from an extensive research study in the United States found that alcohol addiction is the most frequently reported co-occurring condition among people with a gambling disorder. Just over 73 percent of people in the study that were diagnosed with alcoholism and gambling addiction. When you mix compulsive behaviors with alcoholism or drug addiction, matters can get complicated.

Both substance abuse and addiction to gambling have the potential to make symptoms worse for one another. Someone addicted to gambling may spend a lot of time frequenting casinos or bars where they can place bets and have access to alcohol. In these environments, alcohol abuse becomes more likely.

Treating Gambling Addiction and Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

When attempting to treat gambling addiction and substance abuse separately, the individual usually obtains help for only one disorder at a time. The patient may go from one treatment program to another, assuming they are making progress each time, though they ending up stuck in a perpetual cycle of treatment and setbacks.

When substance abuse co-occurs with a gambling addiction, dual diagnosis treatment is effective as it allows for both conditions should be treated at the same time. If the substance use disorder is treated separately, and the other addiction is never addressed, the patient is likely to return to drug or alcohol abuse when the gambling begins again.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a common type of therapy used in the treatment of addictive disorders. CBT works to help people identify and manage their addiction as well as the social, emotional and environmental triggers that may have led them down the path to addiction. Therapy helps change the negative thought and behavioral patterns associated with these addictive actions. Integrated treatment is also necessary for someone suffering from co-occurring disorders or substance abuse.

If you’re experiencing withdrawal in the absence of substance abuse, have developed a tolerance and need more of a substance than you used to get the same result or you find yourself preoccupied with using a substance, you may be addicted.

For those people who are struggling with an alcohol use disorder and gambling addiction, you are not alone. The Recovery Village can help. Individuals who struggle with co-occurring disorders can receive comprehensive treatment from one of the facilities located across the country.  Call The Recovery Village today to speak with a representative and learn more what treatment program could work for you.

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Editor – Jennifer Kopf
Jennifer Kopf is a Florida-based writer who likes to balance creative writing with helpful and informative pieces. Her passion for helping people has translated into writing about the importance of treatment for substance use and mental health disorders. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Krisi Herron, LCDC
Krisi Herron is an Adjunct Psychology Professor, a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor and a freelance writer who contributes to several mental health blogs. Read more

Josephson, H. “People with gambling disorder and risky […]vioral group therapy”  Mar. 2016. Accessed January 6, 2019.

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.