Gambling and Drinking: A Long and Troubled History

Alcohol Awareness Month, which falls in April, comes on the heels of March’s Problem Gambling Awareness Month. The sequence may be coincidental, but given the longstanding ties between the two, it certainly is apt. The link between disordered gambling and alcohol misuse is well-established; wherever there is one, the other is often close by. Their combined toll on society and families of this mix has only worsened in the past few years.

The image of a gambler in a casino being plied with alcohol is a somewhat outdated portrayal of how betting and drinking go hand-in-hand. With online gambling, it’s more likely that a person may be drinking and betting in the privacy of his or her home. COVID-19 further contributed to people living in isolation and both drinking and, with online gambling, betting more. What is unchanged is how the combining of the two will completely destroy lives if not interrupted.

Two statistics tell you everything you need to know about the close ties between problem gambling and alcoholism: 63% of problem gamblers also have alcoholism, and the rate of alcohol misuse is four times higher in people with a gambling problem.

As with all addictions, these take over the affected person’s life. If the person has co-occurring alcoholism and problem gambling, the consequences are compounded. A clear indication of a person with an addiction is the individual will lose interest in relationships and activities they cherished most. Relationships with one’s spouse, children, parents, and best friends will, little by little, fall by the wayside. Because of this, both problem gambling and drinking can shatter families.

During March, CCGNJ Executive Director Felicia Grondin’s presentations included one before the Governor’s Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. She outlined what problem gambling has in common with other addictions and the one way it greatly differs. With disordered gambling, unlike someone with alcoholism or other drug addiction, one sees no outward signs of a problem. For this reason, problem gambling is known as the hidden addiction.

Ms. Grondin’s talk touched on something those in the substance use field know very well: epidemic levels of use. With the increased gambling on smartphones and the excessive gambling ads, CCGNJ is seeing signs of an emerging wave. The fact that both alcohol use and gambling are legal only makes it that much easier to access. But whereas alcohol advertising is circumscribed by law, gambling ads appear in an unending stream on websites and social media as well as on television and radio sports broadcasts.

CCGNJ, which is agnostic on gambling — neither opposing nor endorsing it — has seen an uptick in calls to its 1-800-GAMBLER helpline. We urge anyone who thinks they may have a gambling problem to call the Helpline right away. As with all addictions, the sooner you seek help, the sooner you will begin to regain control of your life.


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