July 1, 2024

The Links Between Gambling Harm and Alcohol Misuse

Liz Riley
The Links Between Gambling Harm and Alcohol Misuse

“People who gamble at harmful levels are more likely to be misusing substances, and people with a substance use disorder are more likely to be gambling at harmful levels.”

Today marks the start of Alcohol Awareness Week and we wanted to draw attention to the fact that harmful behaviours are often not experienced in isolation. There can be a relationship between gambling harm and the misuse of alcohol, but it is a complex one.  

Recent research has been conducted to explore the relationship between gambling harm and the use of alcohol or illegal substances, and here are some significant outcomes focusing on alcohol use specifically:

  • Higher risk drinking was more prevalent when gambling behaviours were also observed (Kock et al., 2024)
  • Harmful gambling and alcohol consumption was observed to “cluster” for some people during adolescence (Latvala et al., 2023)
  • Alcohol misuse was present in 27% of research participants receiving treatment at the National Problem Gambling Clinic (Roberts et al., 2021)
  • More problematic gambling behaviours were observed when people spent more days drinking per month; a simultaneous increase was also seen in time spent gambling per session (Horn et al., 2022)
  • A higher rate of alcohol use in daily life was associated with a greater risk of gambling harms (Horn et al., 2022)
  • Increased alcohol consumption, and less sleep, were observed in people who gambled; on the days when gambling behaviours were present, alcohol consumption increased, and sleep decreased (Thorne et al., 2019)

The relationship between gambling harm and alcohol use consistently shows that the two are associated. One particular experiment showed an increase in amounts staked when losses were experienced in a group consuming alcohol, suggesting alcohol consumption increased loss chasing (Tobias-Webb et al, 2019).

Research by Stuart et al (2022) showed that higher denomination machines were preferred by people who drank when they gambled, compared with those who didn’t drink. Other research, conducted using three groups: alcohol; alcohol-placebo; no-alcohol, found that the no-alcohol group gambled less than the other two groups based on number of spins. However, all groups were consistent in terms of total amount wagered and amount of funds left over at the end of the session. Increased urges to drink alcohol were also observed when participants gambled or watched an exciting sporting event (Lipinski et al., 2023b). Interestingly, Kock et al (2024) identified the potential use of alcohol as an “avoidant coping mechanism” following gambling losses, or a “cued response” following a win (Kock et al., 2024).

Individuals with co-occurring alcohol misuse and gambling harms are more susceptible to social marginalisation, as well as the physical, social, financial and psychological harms that can result from each of these. Certain sub-groups, for example those experiencing poverty, may be disproportionately impacted by these harms, with spending on gambling and/or alcohol only serving to worsen financial pressures and, potentially, lead to offending behaviours. Furthermore, men who claimed to be unable to stop gambling were at increased risk of experiencing suicidal thoughts when alcohol or drug use was also present (Chukwuorji et al., 2020).  

Crucial to recognising the complexity of the relationship between harmful gambling and the misuse of alcohol is understanding that people’s support needs are also likely to be complex. There is a need to address the mental health problems, financial problems, and potential support needs with housing, employment and offending, that can be associated with these comorbidities.

For more information about the support services Betknowmore UK offer to people experiencing gambling harms, including affected others, click here.

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