Gambling and Substance Abuse: What’s the Connection?
The link between gambling and substance/ alcohol addiction has been proven time and again. Psychologists and addictions counselors have done copious amounts of research to study why the two issues tend to go hand in hand. Studies show that the earlier in life someone develops a gambling problem, the more likely they are to develop a substance abuse issue down the line. People who are addicted to gambling are more likely to become addicted to alcohol than to other substances, and alcohol use disorder is the most common co-occurring disorder in people who have been diagnosed with gambling addiction. Recent studies show that over 70% of people who are diagnosed with gambling addiction are also suffering from alcohol use disorder. Let us take a look at the factors that cause this connection to occur.
Substance Abuse, Gambling, And the Brain
Neuroscience and psychological research in the past two decades show that gambling and alcohol both work in similar ways in the brain. The reward system in the brain links several different systems, including memory, motivation, movement, and pleasure. These systems work together to help a person make choices. When a person engages in an activity that the brain perceives as either passing on their genes or keeping them alive, a feel-good chemical – dopamine – is released. This release of dopamine encourages the person to repeat the behavior.
Addictive substances and activities can overly flood the brain with dopamine in a person who is genetically or psychologically prone to addiction. Over time, the brain becomes less sensitive to dopamine, and addiction begins to take hold. This means that the brain requires more and more of the substance or behavior to produce the same feeling the person got the first few times they tried gambling or drugs. As the addiction builds, the connection between the reward system and the area of the brain that controls impulse weakens, making it harder and harder for the person to stop as the addiction continues.
As anyone who has participated in a rehab or 12-step program knows, people, places, and things are always touted as the main triggers for engaging in substance or alcohol use. When a person gambles, they are likely exposed to people, places, and things that lend themselves to the use of drugs and alcohol.
Casinos are known for serving cheap and/ or free alcohol – and the booze flows more freely when a gambler is taking big risks. Many people who gamble celebrate big wins and deal with big losses by hitting the bottle. Many casinos have an “anything goes” atmosphere, and it is easy for people who are predisposed to addiction to get caught up in continuous drinking that becomes hard to stop.
Some people who have been sober for years develop a gambling addiction. Often, this is referred to as being a “dry drunk.” People who are able to physically stay sober but have not done the hard work to figure out how to change their thought patterns and behavior are likely to find themselves addicted to a new substance or activity, such as gambling.
People who struggle with gambling addiction and people who struggle with substance/ alcohol addiction share many of the same mental health issues, such as struggles with impulsivity. Current psychiatric research suggests that people who struggle with addiction may have under-active reward systems. This may cause them to take larger risks than other people, both with gambling and drugs/ alcohol. People in this category are also more likely than the general population to engage in risky sexual behaviors. People in this category are also more likely than the general population to engage in risky sexual behaviors.
People who struggle with gambling addiction and substance/ alcohol use disorder at the same time are more likely than the general population to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and antisocial personality disorder.
Gambling While In Recovery From Alcohol Use Disorder: Why It’s Risky
Many people who have gone through treatment and are in recovery from alcohol use disorder may choose to stay away from casinos and other areas in which gambling occurs to further their recovery. Gambling while in recovery can be dangerous. There are many cases of people who have years of recovery and find themselves addicted to gambling and then find themselves drinking again. There are many reasons why this could happen: dealing with the ups and downs of gambling may lead a person to drink to deal with stress, being in an environment in which alcohol flows freely can be incredibly tempting, and a decline in the strength of the ability to control impulses can all be at play.
Gambling Help: Call Our Gambling Addiction Hotline
If you’re struggling with gambling addiction, substance/ alcohol addiction, or a combination of the two, you’re not alone. While it can feel impossible to dig yourself out of the hole created by co-occurring addictions, it’s possible, and we’re here to help. Take the first step toward getting well by picking up the phone to call our gambling addiction hotline. We are here to teach you how to deal with gambling addiction, one decision at a time. No matter what your history or how bad things have gotten, there is hope. You don’t need to live one more day searching for how to deal with gambling addiction – pick up the phone and reach out for gambling help now.
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