Compulsive Gamblers and Alcohol Abuse

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Compulsive gambling and alcohol abuse are often found intertwined with one another – a dual diagnosis that is very dangerous for gamblers. While gambling and alcohol use can both be enjoyed safely and in moderation, they are both easily addictive because they activate the reward centers in the brain, making them “feel-good” actions that some people will begin to chase. In the chase for satisfaction, gamblers can start to participate in harmful overuse of alcohol as well as a developing dependency on gambling that disrupts their lives.

The Link Between Compulsive Gambling and Alcohol Abuse

Compulsive, or pathological, gambling is frequently joined with alcohol abuse as a dual-diagnosis addiction that can quickly unravel someone’s life – both health-wise and financially.

Some statistics that show the danger of pathological gambling and alcohol abuse are:

  • 2.6% or almost 10 million people in the United States already have or will have issues with compulsive gambling.
  • 1 in 5 people that are suffering from an addiction to gambling attempt suicide.
  • 20% of all people diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder also deal with gambling addiction.
  • Up to 30% of people that seek out treatment for substance abuse also meet the criteria for pathological gambling.
  • One study found that 73% of people within the study suffered from both alcohol abuse and gambling addiction.

Clearly, gambling and alcoholism are dually diagnosed very often, and pathological gambling can co-occur with many different drug addictions.

Pathological Gambling – What is it and is it an Addiction?

There is some controversy around the idea that gambling is an addiction. Addiction has been classified as a disease, and some people do not believe that compulsive gambling qualifies as a disease. However, whether you believe that gambling is an addiction or not, it can definitely become a huge problem in one’s life.

Gambling addiction or gambling disorder is “a pattern of behavior that severely impacts a person’s family, job, or personal life.” Compulsive gambling can begin during adulthood, but it is most often developed in adolescence or young adulthood. Typically, the disorder gets worse over time because many gambling addicts will turn to gambling more often to try to cover the debts they have accrued.

Some signs that you or someone you love has a problem with gambling are:

  • Frequent, reoccurring gambling that leads to distress
  • A persisting need to bet larger amounts of money or take bigger risks
  • Restlessness or irritability when trying to stop or cut down on gambling
  • Taking even bigger risks after a large money loss in an attempt to win the money back
  • Lying to family and friends to hide the frequency of the gambling
  • Many unsuccessful attempts at stopping or cutting down on gambling
  • Losing a job because of gambling
  • Frequent borrowing of money to cover financial issues caused by gambling
  • Endangering or losing relationships and other things because of gambling

If you look at the signs of pathological gambling, you can see the parallels between gambling addiction and alcohol abuse. Both addictions are very detrimental to a person’s livelihood.

Some of the risk factors of compulsive gambling include:

  • Gender. Males are more likely to be compulsive gamblers than females. Additionally, males are more likely to develop compulsive gambling habits at a young age.
  • Age. Young adults and adults at middle age are much more likely to develop a gambling addiction than older adults.
  • Mental Health. Those with anxiety, bad impulse control, depression, and other personality disorders are more likely to become pathological gamblers.
  • History of Substance Abuse. Those diagnosed with Alcohol Abuse Disorder are very likely to be compulsive gamblers as well.
  • Genetics. Compulsive gambling is more likely to affect those who are close relatives to people diagnosed with moderate to severe Alcohol Use Disorder.
  • Ethnicity. European Americans are less likely to develop a gambling disorder than African Americans and Indigenous populations.
  • Socioeconomic status. People who live in lower socioeconomic areas are more likely to become pathological gamblers.

There are different kinds of gambling that people participate in – professional gambling, social gambling, and problem gambling.

Professional gamblers can sometimes resemble compulsive gamblers, but their primary income is from gambling winnings. Since it is their income, they take calculated risks that help them maintain their lifestyles. Professional gamblers do not lose control of their gambling. In fact, losing control of their gambling is precisely what professional gamblers aim to avoid completely.

Social gamblers will gamble at times, but they do not struggle with stopping gambling like a pathological gambler does. They may experience monetary losses, but they usually stop gambling when they reach a predetermined loss amount. Social gamblers are able to stop without issue.

Problem gamblers are not able to control their gambling. They cannot stop gambling easily, and they often will do high-risk and even criminal things in order to support their gambling habits. If a problem gambler is not able to gamble, they will literally experience urges and cravings to gamble. This kind of gambler is compulsive, or pathological.

Lance Dodes, MD, the author of The Heart of Addiction: A New Approach to Understanding and Managing Alcoholism and other Addictive Behaviors, explains compulsive gambling:

“The shortest version is that compulsive gambling is, as its name implies, a compulsion. Compulsive gambling leads to an addiction, which is a psychological symptom that is well-understood and treatable with psychotherapy oriented toward that understanding. It is not a biological, genetic, or moral issue, and it is fundamentally different from other compulsive behaviors and addictions.”

Compulsive Gambling and Alcohol Abuse – A Dual Diagnosis

A dual diagnosis is classified by the presence of more than one disorder, usually a substance abuse problem and a mental health disorder. One of the most common dual diagnoses is pathological gambling and alcohol abuse. Fundamentally, gambling disorder is the result of very poor impulse control, and many gamblers turn to drinking to dull their negative emotions that have arisen because of their gambling problem.

Why is it that gambling and alcohol problems are seen together frequently?

  • The reactions in the brain when someone gambles and when someone drinks alcohol are extremely similar. Both active reward centers and release dopamine.
  • Casinos are known for offering alcohol to their gambling patrons. Most of them allow gamblers to drink alcohol for free as long as they are gambling.
  • People that are diagnosed with Alcohol Use Disorder commonly try to find places that they can drink without others knowing, and they often find this at a casino, which introduces them to gambling.
  • Some compulsive gamblers develop alcoholism because they are drinking too either dull their guilt and shame or to try to lessen their desire to gamble.

The Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey reports the following statistics:

  • If someone is already dealing with alcohol dependency, their odds of becoming a compulsive gambler increase by 23 times.
  • 3 to 5 gamblers out of every 100 also suffers with an alcohol addiction.
  • For those with a gambling problem, their odds are 4 times higher of developing an alcohol dependency.

One of the biggest reasons that compulsive gambling and alcohol abuse co-occur is that they are both legal and socially accepted. For the most part, gamblers and alcohol drinkers are not considered addicts as quickly as someone that is abusing illicit drugs. This disregard of legal substances and actions as if they cannot become problems is one reason that they do become problems.

Getting Help with Compulsive Gambling and Alcohol Abuse

The dual diagnosis of pathological gambling and alcohol abuse has to be treated as a co-occurring disorder because treating one of the addictions can exacerbate the other addiction and cause issues with recovery. However, since the dual diagnosis is so common, there are established ways to treat it. Gambling addiction doesn’t only co-occur with alcoholism, either. It also can arise with mental health issues, and, at times, the mental health issues are also connected with gambling and alcohol abuse.

Gamblers Anonymous

12-Step programs are one of the most common ways that people get help with their addictions and maintain their sobriety. Just like there is Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, there is a 12-Step program called Gamblers Anonymous. If you are not sure if you have an issue with gambling, you can visit the Gamblers Anonymous website and answer these 20 questions to let you know your gambling status.

Gamblers Anonymous follows a 12-Step program of recovery that includes these steps:

  1. You admit that you are powerless over your gambling and that your life has become unmanageable.
  2. You learn to believe that there is a power greater than yourself that can help you recover.
  3. You make the decision to turn your life around and allow the higher power to help you.
  4. You commit to taking a moral and financial inventory of yourself.
  5. You admit to yourself and someone else the exact nature of your addiction and wrongdoings.
  6. You are completely ready to fix the defects in your character.
  7. You ask your higher power to help fix your shortcomings.
  8. You make a list of the people you have hurt and plan to make amends.
  9. You actively make amends with everyone on your list unless speaking to them would do more harm than good.
  10. You continuously take personal inventory of yourself and admit if you do something wrong.
  11. You seek to improve conscious contact with your higher power, as you understand him or her to be, and pray and meditate for the strength you need to recover.
  12. You practice these principles in your daily life and carry this message to other pathological gamblers.

In Gamblers Anonymous, you will choose a sponsor that is a former gambler who has been free of his or her gambling addiction for a significant amount of time. They help to provide guidance and support for you during your recovery.

Outpatient Rehabilitation Programs

Outpatient rehabilitation programs allow a guided recovery process during which you can live at your home and work. The program works with your schedule, and you go to the facility for your rehabilitation for a predetermined amount of time on certain days. Typically, these programs use therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational interviewing to help you recover. Outpatient rehabilitation is ideal for addicts that have a strong support system at home.

Inpatient Rehabilitation Programs

For those that have serious alcohol dependency with their gambling disorder, inpatient rehabilitation may be their best chance of recovery because the detoxification process from alcohol abuse can be dangerous if done alone. You can choose to go through 30-day, 60-day, or 90-day rehabilitation programs. During your inpatient rehab, you will live in a rehabilitation facility full time. Detoxing at a facility like The Hills will provide you with the resources you need to get your body back on track to a new normal while the therapy options will allow you to unpack the causes of your addiction and develop coping mechanisms that aren’t harmful for your body and mind.

Other Recovery Considerations

There are other factors that can aid in the recovery process, like removing triggers, taking medications, attending therapy, and making sure you secure continuing care about your rehabilitation is over.

  • Removing triggers is vital to maintaining your sobriety. To avoid gambling, you can cancel credit cards, have a family member help you manage your money, and set limits on the amount of money you carry on you. To avoid alcohol, you can remove all alcohol from your home and avoid places that serve alcohol like bars, clubs, and casinos. One easy way to minimize your access to potential triggers would be to do your rehabilitation in a residential facility where you can spend time in semi-seclusion far way from the sources of your addiction.
  • Taking medication is an option to help with maintaining sobriety. Some medicines, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants, can help to level your brain and control urges. Naltrexone is usually used to treat alcohol and opioid dependence and is also able to be used for gambling disorders.
  • Attending therapy is necessary for proper recovery. In fact, cognitive behavioral therapy is incredibly helpful with identifying both internal and external triggers of your addiction. There are other therapies available as well.
  • Continuing care is important for maintaining your recovery process. You are allowed to choose your own continuing care depending on your personal preferences and needs. Some continuing care options are 12-Step programs, like Gamblers Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, sober living homes, and individual or group therapy.

In Conclusion…

Compulsive gambling and alcohol abuse commonly go hand in hand. If you or someone you love is being affected by one or both of these addictions, it is important to get help immediately. There are hotlines that you can call in an emergency, and you can check yourself into rehabilitation at any time. When dealing with any kind of addiction, it is necessary to get help as soon as you realize that you have a problem.

The Hills is located in Los Angeles, California. Our residential treatment facility is staffed by people who know just how difficult the road to recovery can be. We’ll make sure that you get the most out of every single minute of your rehabilitation in our facility and break your bond with both gambling and alcohol so that you can get your life back on track. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you on your own journey to sobriety and help you break free from gambling addiction. 


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