Problem Gambling Awareness Month: Recognizing Gambling Addiction and its Connection to Substance Abuse

Gambling Addiction and Drug or Alcohol AddictionMarch is Problem Gambling Awareness Month (PGAM). This month, the National Council on Problem Gambling aims to increase public awareness of problem gambling and the best ways to approach prevention and treatment of this very common problem.

2018 is the 14th year in which groups across the country hold conferences regarding PGAM. They also run screening days and work to raise public awareness about problem gambling by using social media campaigns and a variety of other activities.

The Connection Between Problem Gambling and Substance Abuse

Problem gambling (or gambling addiction) disrupts lives in much the same way as addiction to alcohol or other substances does. A gambling addict needs to bet more money more often much the way an addict needs to increase the amount of drugs taken to obtain the same effect. A person who gambles compulsively keeps doing so in spite of rapidly increasing negative consequences, such as huge financial losses, marital problems and legal problems.

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For many people who struggle with substance abuse, there is a connection between addictive behavior and gambling.  As many as one or two out of every 10 people with substance abuse problems also have gambling problems. 

How Gambling Can be a Substitute Drug of Choice

Many people who have sought treatment for alcoholism or drug abuse find that addictive behavior comes back even when the drug of choice is successfully avoided. Recovering alcoholics and addicts may be compelled to turn to other substances and behaviors as a way of altering their moods or escaping from reality, including overeating, risky sexual behavior and gambling.

The underlying causes of addiction remain even when the substance is removed. Addicts may continue to struggle with impulsivity or the compulsion to chase a feeling of euphoria or excitement. Part of recovering from addiction requires recognizing that the potential of simply substituting one behavior for another will continue to exist and may present challenges when least expected.

Gambling While Using Alcohol or Drugs

A different problem for many people is that gambling may go along with active addiction. You might gamble compulsively while you are drinking or under the influence of other substances. You might sell drugs to support your gambling addiction, or you might gamble compulsively, hoping to win enough to support your drug habit.

For some, gambling addiction is the first or most preferred addictive behavior. Drugs or alcohol are part of the picture only to intensify feelings of excitement when you win or to dull your emotional pain if you lose, particularly if you lose big and are headed for extremely negative consequences.

Recognizing Problem Gambling and Getting Help

A large number of people can gamble responsibly with no negative consequences, but there is a point in which gambling has gotten out of control. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

If you or a loved one is having a problem with gambling, there are several ways to get help. Talk to your family doctor or a counselor to see if you can be screened for problem gambling. Consider attending meetings of Gamblers Anonymous for ongoing support.

If your gambling is in any way connected to drinking or substance abuse, you may not be able to stop gambling without getting treatment for substance abuse. If you are already in recovery for substance abuse but have turned to gambling as a substitute, talk to an addiction professional.

Problem gambling is addictive behavior that on its own will get worse, not better. Learn as much as you can about gambling addiction so you can take the steps needed to get past it. It is possible to overcome all forms of addiction, including gambling addiction.

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