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Drinking Habits

The Connection Between Gambling and Drinking

Published:
May 30, 2024
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19 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
May 30, 2024
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19 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
May 30, 2024
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19 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
May 30, 2024
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19 min read
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Reframe Content Team
May 30, 2024
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19 min read

Gambling and Alcohol: A Dangerous Mix

  • Gambling and drinking can be a dangerous duo and lead to a cycle of misuse, dependence, or addiction. Furthermore, addiction can lead to risky behaviors, health risks, and financial problems.
  • To avoid the trap of gambling and alcohol addiction, set strict limits, bring an accountability partner, track habits, and seek support when needed.
  • Avoid the costly trap of addiction and change your relationship with alcohol with Reframe’s neuroscience-backed programs designed to educate, motivate, and support you every step of the way!

Alcohol seems to be attached at the hip to gambling. Whether we’re playing the slots at a casino, betting on our favorite sports team, or buying a lottery ticket at the gas station, alcohol is always close by. While the duo of alcohol and gambling may take in money for businesses, the combination produces unfavorable odds for us as individuals. 

We commonly hear of gambling addiction and alcohol addiction, but could the two be intertwined? Let’s go back in time to the beginnings of how alcohol and gambling became connected to better understand the dangerous effects that the pair can elicit.

Origins of the Dangerous Duo: Gambling and Alcohol

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Alcohol and gambling both date back to thousands of years ago, but the popularity of the pair can be traced back to the Prohibition Era. Starting in the 1920s when alcohol was banned in the US, underground speakeasies or secret bars flourished as a result. Gambling establishments, outlawed in the 1910s, seemed to merge perfectly with illegal bars — commonly occurring side by side. 

As alcohol and gambling in some areas became legal in the mid-20th century, it gave rise to Las Vegas — the gambling capital of the world. New casinos that opened up appealed to visitors by offering free drinks. Not only did this strategy help bring in gamblers, but it was also used to keep players at the tables and slot machines for longer. Alcohol helped manipulate the atmosphere and quickly became an integral aspect of casinos and gambling establishments. 

Today, bars and lounges are a vital part of casinos — intertwining the aspects of betting, socializing, and drinking. Alcohol is also commonly seen in other types of gambling such as sports betting, e-sports, and lotteries. Drinking and gambling are deeply connected and both are frequently associated with addiction. Let’s further explore to see why this is.

Understanding Addiction

To understand addiction, let’s first define common terms that are associated. While these terms are frequently used interchangeably, they are distinctive. Let’s explore how they differ from each other. 

  • Misuse. Misuse of a substance refers to excessive use of something without regard to negative consequences that may occur. While those of us who misuse a substance may also be dependent on it, it’s not always the case.
  • Dependence. Differing from misuse, dependence is when we can’t quit something. Dependence is a physical manifestation of the body adapting to the presence of something. It’s associated with symptoms of withdrawal if the substance is removed. 
  • Addiction. Addiction is a neurological dependence. It’s characterized by changes in our brain’s reward pathways that can last even after withdrawal symptoms subside. While dependence can often lead to addiction, they can exist without one another. Take our morning coffee for example. We may get a headache if we decide to skip it one morning, but it doesn’t always mean we’re addicted. 

While these terms are often mixed up, research found that incorrectly using the terms dependence and addiction within the medical field can have social, therapeutic, and criminal consequences. Gambling and alcohol can both be associated with misuse, dependence, and addiction. Gambling is an activity and alcohol is a drug, but they can both release dopamine which creates feelings of pleasure and reward. Since they both manipulate our brain’s reward system, alcohol and gambling are subject to addiction, especially when combined. Let’s take a closer look at their relationship.

Dangerous Consequences of Gambling and Drinking

The Cyclical Relationship Between Gambling and Drinking

Gambling and drinking often fuel each other. There’s a reason that gambling establishments use alcohol to lure us in and keep us there. Gambling’s strong connection to alcohol can encourage drinking. This can then fuel an increase in gambling impulsions and lead to excessive drinking. The toxic cycle of gambling and drinking can create a perfect storm that can lead to dependence and addiction. 

The Link Between Alcohol and Gambling Addiction

The supposed thrill of uncertainty that gambling brings can lead to addiction on its own. Adding alcohol to the equation is like adding fuel to the fire. This is due to alcohol’s impact on our cognitive and physiological processes. 

Specifically, alcohol triggers the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that produces feelings of pleasure and motivates us to come back for more. Gambling, while not a drug, can also trigger the release of dopamine. Alcohol and gambling can heighten the feelings of happiness that can make the combination of gambling and drinking seem like a highly pleasurable experience. This may explain the conclusion that the combination of the two is more highly associated with problem gambling, as outlined in this study.

Alcohol also lowers our inhibitions, which can make us more prone to doing things we wouldn’t normally do. Have you ever brought out your inner Mariah Carey while drinking when normally you’d be the one to mouth the lyrics during karaoke with friends? Alcohol’s damper on our prefrontal cortex is to blame. 

Lowered inhibitions from drinking can significantly affect gambling behaviors. It can lead to greater impulsivity which can cause risky gambling behaviors and also impact our judgment. When our rational brain would normally tell us to stop, alcohol’s effects on our inhibition may dismiss these thoughts. A study on alcohol and gambling addiction found that alcohol misuse commonly precedes problematic gambling behaviors. Alcohol plays a major role in gambling behaviors, but how does gambling perpetuate the toxic cycle that can lead to alcohol addiction? 

The Link Between Gambling and Alcohol Addiction

We’ve established that alcohol and gambling commonly co-occur. This means that gambling can increase our alcohol exposure and further normalize the tendency to gamble and drink together. 

In addition to increased exposure that can indirectly encourage excessive consumption, gambling and alcohol act on the same reward pathways in our brain. Just like how the heightened increase in dopamine can elicit excessive gambling, the positive feelings we may associate with drinking and gambling can fuel increased consumption.

Aside from the detrimental health effects of excessive drinking, the boost of dopamine may not sound particularly harmful. However, excessive drinking can stunt our brain’s natural production of dopamine — meaning that we’d need more and more alcohol (or alcohol and gambling in this case) to reach the same level of pleasure. Research, looking specifically at sports betting and alcohol consumption, concluded that those who wagered on sports disproportionately reported a higher tendency and frequency of binge drinking.

Through the way alcohol and gambling affect one another, we can determine that drinking and gambling undoubtedly have a cyclical relationship. But why is this dangerous?

Dangerous Consequences of Gambling and Drinking

An unhealthy relationship with alcohol or gambling can cause harmful consequences on their own. However, the way that alcohol and gambling fuel one another amplifies their dangers. Some dangers of mixing the two include the following consequences:

  • Excessive drinking. Drinking is heavily normalized, especially in gambling establishments. The free drink that reels us in can be the trigger for excessive drinking
  • Excessive gambling. Impacted judgment from alcohol can affect our decision to stop or continue. The nature of intoxication can also keep us at a gambling establishment for longer — increasing the chances that we keep playing.
  • Risk of addiction. The impact of gambling with the added effects of alcohol heightens the risk of addiction, more than the two separately. 
  • Risky behaviors. Alcohol can increase impulsive behaviors which may lead to risky gambling choices and other risky behaviors. Drinking can often be associated with black-and-white thinking or thinking in absolutes. Since we may already be participating in gambling and drinking, black-and-white thinking may consequently encourage us to engage in other detrimental behaviors.
  • Financial issues. Excessive gambling and drinking can quickly lead to financial problems. A study looking at the financial impacts of gambling concluded

While drinking and gambling are associated with many potential risks, the fact is that they commonly occur together. Let’s explore some ways that we can treat an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and gambling.

Treating Alcoholism and Gambling Addiction

Treatment or support isn’t only for those of us who meet the criteria for addiction. If we’re concerned about our gambling or drinking habits we can take the following steps to stack the odds in our favor:

1. Identify signs. Sometimes it can be difficult to identify that our habits are becoming an issue. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Increased consumption/gambling
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Ignoring negative consequences
  • Withdrawal symptoms when stopping
  • Not being able to stop
  • Concerned friends and family

2. Explore treatment options. Alcohol use disorder (AUD) and gambling addiction can be treated separately or together. Some treatment options overlap, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing, which can treat both conditions simultaneously.

3. Try medications. Medically assisted treatment may be used in conjunction with other therapies. This helps to target neurological pathways while we are also making behavioral changes.

While different options exist to treat alcoholism and gambling addiction, prevention is the best way to avoid the adverse effects of addiction. 

How To Approach Gambling and Alcohol Consumption

While it can be easy to say, “Don’t drink and gamble,” putting it into practice is a bit more complicated. Alcohol and gambling have deep-rooted ties that date back over a hundred years. Alcohol is also heavily ingrained in our social culture — making quitting or cutting back not always as easy as it sounds. Here are some ways we can approach gambling and drinking more mindfully:  

  • Set strict limits. Especially in curated gambling environments, it can be easy to say “Just one more drink” or “Just one more game,” which usually doesn’t play out like that. Setting and sticking to strict limits such as only having one drink or only playing for an hour helps to prevent overindulgence. 
  • Have an accountability partner. Sometimes even setting limits for ourselves may not be foolproof. Having an accountability partner is like having a second line of defense that can help us stick to our goals.  
  • Track habits. Vegas and blacking out are infamously synonymous with one another. However, keeping track of our gambling and alcohol consumption can help make sure we don’t go overboard. Gambling can occur in many different forms, so keeping a log of our habits over time can help us identify if we may be starting to develop an unhealthy relationship. 
  • Seek support. Navigating dependence or addiction isn’t easy, but we don’t have to go through it alone. Social support can help us get through obstacles on our road to recovery. 

Early intervention and more intentional consumption can go a long way in preventing addiction to alcohol or gambling. Unfortunately, the relationship between alcohol and gambling makes addiction more prevalent than we may realize. A study on gambling and substance use in the US found that problematic gambling occurred in roughly 4.6% of the population and 17% among those with alcohol misuse or dependence. 

Laying It All Out

Drinking and gambling. Two vices that were intertwined as a way to conveniently avoid bans through underground establishments quickly became a marketing strategy to keep customers looped in. Gambling indirectly encourages drinking due to its strong ties. In turn, alcohol can also fuel more gambling — starting a negative cycle that can easily lead to dependence and addiction. While the pair can seem like an innocent duo at first, dependence and addiction can have harmful impacts on all areas of our lives. Don’t wager when it comes to your health and well-being. Avoid gambling and drinking in excess to avoid traveling down the road that leads to addiction!

Summary FAQs

1. How are gambling and alcohol addiction related?

Gambling is often associated with drinking — increasing exposure to alcohol. Research shows that those of us who participate in gambling have a higher tendency to binge drink, which can lead to dependence and addiction.

2. Is it common for alcoholism and gambling addiction to co-occur?

Yes. Alcohol use disorder and pathological gambling are common co-occurring conditions.

3. Why is gambling and drinking dangerous?

Gambling and drinking can be a dangerous combination as they can fuel dependence on one another.

4. How can I prevent an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and gambling?

Setting strict limits and reaching out for support can help us avoid an unhealthy relationship with alcohol and gambling.

5. Are there treatments for gambling and alcohol addiction? 

Yes. Many treatments for substance use and gambling overlap.

Break the Cycle of Addiction With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

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