Alcohol Abuse and Gambling: How to Break the Cycle

Gambling addiction isn’t a money problem. It’s a serious, progressive condition that’s connected to a host of other serious problems, including alcohol abuse. Here’s what you need to know about the alcohol abuse-gambling addiction cycle and how to break it:

Research suggests nearly 75% of people with the most serious form of gambling addiction abuse alcohol too. About 44% of those who struggle with at least some problem gambling criteria abuse alcoholic substances as well.

Why Do Alcohol Abuse and Problem Gambling Co-Occur So Frequently?

The significant stress and strain of living with an often hidden gambling addiction compels some people to turn to alcohol as a way to relieve those feelings. In other people, alcohol abuse leads to problem gambling. Alcohol lowers inhibitions–a factor that potentially results in anything from driving under the influence to betting too much at the blackjack table.

Regardless of the origin, these behaviors reinforce each other, and the result is frequently a cycle of drinking and gambling heavily. For some people, the behaviors are frequent, perhaps daily; for others, they occur in binges.

In addition, research suggests that substance abuse and behavioral addictions, like gambling, share some of the same biological foundations and risk factors.

Alcohol Abuse and Problem Gambling: Relapse Dangers

It’s also critical for anyone struggling with either condition to be aware of the potential impact of the other behavior on recovery. Gambling can provide a pathway toward relapse when someone is recovering from alcohol abuse. For example, alcohol is an ingrained part of casino and racetrack environments. An alcohol abuser in recovery might find it hard to resist cravings in a gambling atmosphere. The reverse is also true: a recovering problem gambler can find that alcohol lowers his or her inhibitions, making it harder to overcome gambling cravings.

You Can Break the Cycle.

Treatment and lasting recovery are possible! If you or someone you love struggles with both behaviors, it’s time to find specialized treatment that supports recovery from alcohol abuse and gambling addiction. Find a Treatment Provider, or contact Compass Mark for confidential guidance to help resources in Lancaster County and Lebanon County. Call our team at 717-299-2831 or use the Compulsive Gambling Help Form.

Learn More:

When a Loved One is an Alcoholic and Compulsive Gambler: Guide for Families
Trading Alcohol Abuse for Problem Gambling: 4 Facts for Loved Ones 


Gambling: America’s 2nd Favorite Way to Spend Money Online While Drinking [Survey]

Online gambling is the second favorite money-spending activity for Americans who hit the Internet after they’ve been drinking alcohol. The consumer survey was conducted by personal finance comparison website to evaluate America’s online shopping/drinking habits. It uncovered that 6.2% of participants said they had gambled online while inebriated.

The findings also revealed a gender difference: men who spent money online while drunk reported gambling as the most frequent activity—10% of male participants had done it compared with 4% of female respondents.

Clothing and shoe purchases topped the overall list, with about 7% of the 3,123 participants saying they’d bought these items online while drinking.

Alcohol-induced purchases are a familiar topic on some lifestyle websites, often boasting headlines like 17 of the Worst Drunk Purchases Ever. They’re intended to be lighthearted articles; however they underscore the fact that alcohol abuse lowers inhibitions. It might seem funny when a person’s drunk-purchased a taxidermied squirrel dressed like Napoleon—but when inhibitions regarding unhealthy gambling behavior disappear the stakes can be far higher. Gambling while drinking may raise the risk for problem gambling, particularly among those already at an elevated risk.

Alcohol Abuse & Problem Gambling

Alcohol abuse and problem gambling often occur hand-in-hand. Experts estimate 73% of compulsive gamblers–those with the most serious form of the disorder–struggle with alcohol abuse. About 45% of people with problem gambling–those who gamble enough that it has a negative impact on their life–have an alcohol use disorder too.

Recovery from alcohol abuse & problem gambling is possible.

You or your loved one can recover and build a life guided by positive choices and renewed hope. A professional therapist can assess a problem gambler/alcohol abuser and recommend a coordinated treatment plan that addresses these as well as any underlying issues that may contribute to the behaviors.

Find a Problem Gambling Therapist in Lancaster or Lebanon. You can also call Compass Mark at 717-299-2831 for prevention resources and judgment-free guidance.

Get the information you need to make positive changes.

Take the quiz on our home page to learn if you or a loved one is at risk for problem gambling.


6 Red Flags for Gamblers: When Is It Too Much?

A slurred word here. A wobbly movement there. Addiction to substances often provides physical clues—to the addict and those around him or her—that there’s a problem. However, when it comes to behavior-related addictions, such as gambling, those clues can be a bit tougher to pinpoint. Here are six signs it might be time to get help for problem gambling:

1. Gambling has become part of your routine.
Perhaps you gamble online regularly during lunch breaks, or maybe you’re at the racetrack or off-track wagering facility every weekend. If betting has wormed its way into a regular routine, you may be at higher risk for compulsive gambling.

2. You binge gamble.
Problem gamblers don’t necessarily need to wager every day. In fact, some experience gamble-free periods that are interrupted by binges that last days or weeks. Whenever a person goes through periods of uncontrolled gambling, it’s time to consider professional help.

3. You lose sleep because of gambling-related problems.
Whether you lost the paycheck to slots or got into hot water at work because you were late after a night-long online poker binge, the anxiety and stress may be interrupting your shut-eye–another gambling addiction red flag.

4. You and loved ones argue about your gambling behavior.
From money spats to accusations you’re sidestepping responsibilities, unhealthy gambling sparks conflict. Even if you feel your loved one is in the wrong, the fact that they’re noticing the consequences of gambling and confronting you about them suggests it’s time to seek help.

5. You’ve started drinking more alcohol.
It’s estimated up to 25% of people with one addiction will develop addiction to an additional behavior or substance. Unhealthy gambling creates stress—and some gamblers deal with it by turning to alcohol. If you’re drinking more than you did previously, that’s another warning sign to consult a treatment professional.

6. You lose track of time while gambling.
Winning or losing, when the brain gets into a “groove” it’s easy to lose track of time, and, in turn, money wagered. When a person regularly loses track of time while playing, it’s time to consider gambling help.

To learn if you’re at risk for gambling addiction, take the simple quiz on our home page.

You don’t need to hit “rock bottom” to start healing from problem gambling. The sooner you seek help the better your chance for long-term recovery—emotionally, physically, and financially. Contact a professional therapist trained to help those with gambling addiction by visiting Treatment Providers.

For judgment-free, confidential guidance to additional problem gambling resources in Lancaster County, PA or Lebanon County, PA, call Compass Mark at 717-299-2831 or use our online help form.

Alcohol and Problem Gambling- 4 Ways This Combo Creates Chaos

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. What does alcohol abuse have to do with gambling addiction? Actually, quite a bit. When the two collide, the consequences can seriously damage the addicted person and his or her loved ones emotionally, physically, and financially. Check out these reasons alcohol abuse and gambling addiction are an especially destructive combination.

1. Substance abuse & gambling addiction are connected.
About 73% of people struggling with pathological gambling (the most serious form of the condition) have an alcohol use disorder, while up to 44% of all problem gamblers struggle with alcohol.  In addition, researchers found that those with problem gambling were more than twice as likely to exceed sensible drinking limits. One reason for the connection may be rooted in the brain; some of the same biological irregularities seen in alcohol-addicted people have also been identified in pathological gamblers. The biological connection may also explain why addictive behavior sometimes runs in families.

2. A recovering compulsive gambler can become cross addicted to alcohol and vice versa.
It’s estimated as many as 25% of addicted people will become addicted to an additional substance or behavior. This occurs because addiction alters how the brain perceives pleasure and reward. When a person starts to recover from one addiction, the brain may seek out another way to achieve the high it craves. Learn more in From Substance Abuse to Gambling- Cross Addiction FAQ Guide.

3. One unhealthy behavior can trigger relapse in the other.
Alcohol reduces the ability to make reasonable decisions, which can lead to a recovering gambler giving into urges to hit the casino, play online poker, or bet on sports. Likewise, gambling often occurs in environments that nurture alcohol use–in places like casinos and racetracks. A person recovering from alcohol abuse may find it harder to resist cravings while gambling.

4. Both conditions require professional treatment.
If a gambler is also addicted to or abusing alcohol, it’s critical to find a treatment provider skilled at coordinating treatment for each condition. Since addictive gambling behavior has some unique qualities, choose a therapist or counselor skilled in treating people with problem gambling.

Compass Mark offers addiction treatment resources and guidance for individuals, families, and health care professionals in Lancaster and Lebanon. Reach out for help—call our compassionate, trained team at 717-299-2831 or use the Get Help form.


Trading Alcohol Abuse for Problem Gambling- 4 Facts for Loved Ones

Your loved one is successfully recovering from alcohol abuse—but now he or she is starting to gamble too much. Is it really such a big deal? Yes. A recovering substance abuser who develops a gambling problem is putting more than just their money at risk. Learn more with these facts about cross addiction and problem gambling:

1. Cross addiction is replacing one addiction with another.

Experts estimate as many as 1 in 4 addicted people will switch to another addiction. Why? Addiction is a chronic brain condition that alters how a person perceives reward and pleasure. As a result, the brain will continue to seek new ways to feel good.

2. Cross addiction is dangerous.

It might seem like the development of problem gambling is “no big deal” after someone has stopped abusing alcohol. Yet gambling addiction is anything but harmless. It’s been linked to an increased risk for domestic violence, divorce, and depression. What’s more, surveys suggest up to about 25% of gambling-addicted people attempt suicide—among the highest rates of any addiction.

The strain and anxiety of struggling with compulsive gambling can also lead to a relapse in alcohol abuse recovery. For instance, a problem gambler might turn back to alcohol to self-medicate worries about paying bills or covering losses.

3. There are red flags for gambling cross addiction.

  • Becoming increasingly preoccupied with gambling
  • Unwilling or unable to account for periods of time
  • Committing theft, fraud, or forgery to pay bills or get gambling money
  • Experiencing mood swings based on outcome: joyful with wins, depressed with losses
  • Attempting to stop several times without success

4. Cross addiction is treatable.

It can be especially frustrating to see a family member or friend achieve recovery from one addiction only to have another develop. The good news is that compulsive gambling is treatable. Your loved one will need to continue treatment for their original addiction and add treatment targeting the new one.

Gambling addiction is similar to substance abuse in many respects; however there are some differences that make it important to find a provider specifically trained to treat problem gambling. If you’re in Lancaster, PA or Lebanon, PA and need resources or referrals for gambling addiction, contact Compass Mark at (717) 299-2831 or use our online help form. We’ll point you toward the path that leads to healing—from any addiction.


Physical Health & Gambling Addiction- More Than a Money Problem [Research]

Say “problem gambling” and most people likely wouldn’t think of it as a condition that affects physical well-being. It’s true that compulsive gambling is sometimes called the silent addiction, in part because it doesn’t directly produce clear physical red flags like substance abuse does; loved ones won’t see symptoms such as glassy eyes, slurred speech, or altered movement. Yet problem gambling is linked to poor health habits that have an impact on physical well-being, according to recent research.

A European study, shared on WAGER, found that problem gamblers had higher rates of unhealthy behaviors than those without disordered gambling. People with problem gambling were:

  • 2.2 times more likely to exceed “sensible drinking limits” (21+ alcoholic drinks per week for men and 14+ per week for women);
  • 2.7 times more likely to be heavy smokers than non-smokers.

How is gambling connected to physical health?

In problem gambling, the cause-effect path is somewhat indirect—but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. For instance, gambling addiction can lead to alcohol abuse, which has serious negative effects on physical health, from impaired liver function to increased cancer risk. Alcohol is readily available—and sometimes free—at casinos and racetracks. Gamblers caught up in the atmosphere and the uncontrollable quest for the next big win may find themselves consuming more and more, especially as they lose track of time.

Gambling problems also cause a significant amount of stress for the gambler, potentially driving him or her to turn to alcohol as a way to relieve the anxiety and strain. (Learn more in When a Loved One is an Alcoholic and Compulsive Gambler- Guide for Families.) The stress may also make other negative health-related behaviors, like smoking, worse.

Because compulsive gambling affects decision making, it can prevent a person from taking care of basic health needs. For example, an older person who spends hour after hour playing slots may neglect to take needed medications. Likewise, a gambling-addicted person obsessed with chasing losses might neglect basic hygiene.

Get Help or Find Resources

Compulsive gambling is a complex medical condition that requires treatment by trained professionals. Treatment typically includes a combination of counseling, self-help meetings, and, when necessary, medication. The problem gambler may need substance abuse treatment as well. Take the quiz on our home page to learn if you or someone you know is at risk for this condition.

Compass Mark is dedicated to helping individuals, families, educators, health professionals, and others find problem gambling help resources. If you’re in Lancaster County or Lebanon County, our office will guide you to prevention and education materials or treatment providers. Call (717) 299-2831 or fill out this easy help form.


4 Reasons to Get Problem Gambling Help

Worried about how much you lost playing slots at a Pennsylvania casino last weekend? Concerned about a loved one’s online gambling behavior? If you’re reading this, you already suspect a problem.  But how serious can gambling too much be? Actually, quite serious—and not just in terms of money lost. Here are 4 reasons problem gambling deserves professional treatment:

1. Problem gambling isn’t a money issue—it’s a medical condition.

This is not about being bad with money or having no willpower. It’s a behavioral addiction; the person’s high comes from the thrill of the game and the allure of the next Big Win. The addiction alters the gambler’s decision-making process and makes him or her unable to control the urge to bet.

If you fractured an arm, you’d seek medical care. If a family member became addicted to heroin, you’d try to get him or her into treatment. Likewise, a person with compulsive gambling also deserves treatment from a trained professional.

2. Compulsive gambling is a friends-and-family problem, too.  

A mom becomes so wrapped up in a casino app that she doesn’t notice her toddler has slipped out the front door…an older man sells his wife’s valuable family heirlooms to get slot machine money…a gambler “borrows” a friend’s ATM card and PIN so he has money to bet the ponies.

It’s easy to think “I’d never do that” or “My husband/wife wouldn’t even consider acting that way.” Yet compulsive gambling affects a person’s ability to make reasonable decisions—and often the decisions made in the heat of addiction hurt the physical, emotional, or financial well-being of loved ones.

3. Problem gamblers are at higher risk for suicide.

An estimated 17-24% of problem gamblers have attempted suicide, a rate higher than that of other addictions. A compulsive gambler often suffers in silence, feeling as though there’s nowhere to turn for help, especially after money and other resources run out. What’s more, there are few outward signs of addiction—no slurred words, no stumbling—to suggest to others that there’s a problem. Learn more in Suicide and Problem Gambling- FAQ Guide.

4. Addicted gamblers have higher rates of substance abuse and mental health conditions.

Researchers estimate 25-44% of problem gamblers struggle with an alcohol abuse disorder. Despite the wide range in estimates, it’s clear that many who have disordered gambling also live with alcohol abuse, which carries an additional—and serious—physical and emotional impact. Furthermore, problem gamblers have higher rates of mental health conditions, such as depression or bipolar disorder, both of which have their own set of concerns requiring treatment.

Problem gambling is treatable. Compass Mark guides individuals and families to addiction help resources in Lancaster and Lebanon. Call (717) 299-2831 or fill out the online help form. Our assistance is free and confidential.


When a Loved One is an Alcoholic and Compulsive Gambler – Guide for Families

Alcohol abuse destroys relationships and lives. So does gambling addiction. When the two combine, the results can be shattering—to the gambler and those around him or her. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among those with a gambling problem. About 73% of pathological gamblers have an alcohol use disorder, according to the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.

Alcoholism and compulsive gambling share many similarities. For example, both involve the brain’s reward system, particularly the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) called dopamine. The conditions share risk factors as well, including having a family history of addiction, living with a mood disorder (like depression), or experiencing trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse. For more information on the link between these addictions, read From Substance Abuse to Gambling- Cross Addiction FAQ Guide.

The Alcohol-Gambling Cycle

One of the hardest parts of living with alcoholism and gambling addiction is that the conditions reinforce each other. Excessive drinking interferes with decision-making abilities, leading to poor judgment and a higher inclination to take risks. Some studies suggest a link between alcohol use and a higher willingness to gamble or place higher bets. In addition, gambling itself can encourage drinking, particularly when the gambler is in an environment, like a casino, in which alcohol is readily available (and, sometimes, free). The stress of problem gambling also triggers feelings of depression and anxiety, which may lead to further alcohol use. The result can be a vicious cycle that fractures relationships, destroys careers, and drains finances.

Treatment for Alcohol Abuse & Gambling Addiction

Professional treatment can help a person lead a healthier life. However, the key is to get help for each addiction. A therapist with experience treating alcohol abuse may not have experience treating gambling addiction. It’s essential to find a professional licensed to treat both, or a team of professionals able to work together to treat your loved one for both conditions.

The first step may be detox to eliminate alcohol from the body in a safe and medically-monitored environment. After detoxification, your family member will start the real work of treatment. Licensed therapists will identify triggers for each behavior and help the addicted person learn how to cope with those triggers in a healthy way.

Depending on the situation, your loved one may or may not receive medication. Some prescription drugs, like naltrexone, can treat both conditions. Remember, medication is only one part of a comprehensive strategy for addiction treatment.

Your family member might also need additional help, such as 12-step support groups (Alcoholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous), family or marriage therapy, or money management skill-building.

Since 1966, Compass Mark has helped people in the Lancaster/Lebanon area find help for addiction. Call (717) 299-2831 or use our help form. We’ll point you to alcohol abuse and compulsive gambling resources.


Veterans and Gambling Addiction – Facts for Families and Employers

From traumatic brain injury to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), many of us are becoming more aware of the physical, mental, and emotional issues that affect our nation’s military members. But there’s one veterans’ issue that hasn’t received as much attention: gambling addiction.

Veterans are more vulnerable to excessive gambling than non-military members.

A Veterans Administration-funded study revealed surprising findings about American veterans and gambling behavior:

  • About 8% of veterans show signs of problem gambling behaviors, while an additional 2% suffer from pathological gambling—these numbers are about double the rate of the general population.
  • Vets in their 20s have higher rates of pathological gambling. This is a sharp contrast from the rest of the population, in which the people with the most serious gambling addictions are typically over age 35.
  • Male and female veterans have identical problem gambling rates; but in the general population, men addicted to gambling outnumber women at least 2 to 1.

Gambling often starts as a form of entertainment.

Some military vets with gambling addiction report they started by playing poker to relieve stress and boredom during active duty. Other vets may be attracted to table games, slots, and sports betting because of the thrill they provide.

And while many are able to enjoy occasional gambling as entertainment, others develop a dangerous addiction. This excessive behavior creates havoc for veterans, their families, and their employers. It triggers arguments between partners, an inability to focus on non-gambling activities (like work or a child’s soccer game), and poor financial decision making. And, for some, the effects of the addiction are serious enough that they lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.

Gambling addiction in veterans often co-exists with other mental health issues.

Former military members with an addiction to gambling often live with other—sometimes undiagnosed—illnesses, like PTSD, anxiety disorder, clinical depression, and alcoholism. If that’s the case, it’s crucial to find a treatment team able to manage any other conditions the addicted person may be suffering from.

How can you get help for a veteran with a gambling problem?

Everyone deserves to live an addiction-free life. If you know or love a veteran who gambles enough that it’s destroying their relationships, finances, and workplace performance, it’s time to reach out for a helping hand.

That’s where the Compass Mark team comes in. We help family, friends, and employers find gambling addiction help resources in Lancaster and Lebanon. Contact us through the online help form or call (717) 299-2831—it’s free and confidential.

From Substance Abuse to Gambling –Cross Addiction FAQ Guide

What happens when someone recovering from addiction stumbles into a new one, like gambling? Some people in recovery experience this condition, called cross addiction. If you or someone you love has replaced an alcohol or drug abuse problem with gambling, it’s time to arm yourself with the facts so you can get help.

What is cross addiction?

It happens when a person recovering from addiction to one substance transfers those addictive behaviors to something else. For example, someone in recovery from alcohol abuse might successfully be able to manage that addiction only to latch onto destructive gambling behaviors.

Cross addiction isn’t triggered by lack of willpower. In fact, it’s a medical condition with roots in biology. An addicted person’s brain seeks out compulsive behaviors. In other words, the brain finds a new drug. And, for some people, that new “drug” is gambling, whether it’s sports betting or slot machines.

Excessive gambling behaviors can have serious and far-reaching consequences for the person recovering from addiction and his or her family:

Problem gambling creates a new set of challenges. Unlike drug or alcohol abuse, there are few physical signs there’s a problem, which is why it’s often called the silent addiction. People addicted to gambling often hide their behavior. For example, a spouse may not realize the extent of a partner’s betting activities until a foreclosure notice arrives.

Gambling can trigger a relapse. Gambling tends to be much more exciting for a recovering person than someone without addictive behaviors. This kind of high excitement triggers chemical reactions which feel just like using drugs or alcohol to the brain.

In addition, excessive gambling creates stress. It causes financial difficulties, relationship problems, and work issues—and those stresses can sabotage the recovery of an alcohol or drug addicted person. What’s more, the environment of casinos and wagering facilities often promotes alcohol use.

Can I (or someone I care about) ever be free from addiction?

Yes! People can learn to live a healthy life free from the stresses and challenges of addiction. For the best chance of success, the recovering person must deal with each of the addictive conditions. While the path to recovery is different for each person, here are two of the most common tools:

  • Professional treatment: Even if a recovery program for one addiction is already established, the problem gambling needs to be treated as well. A long-term professional gambling treatment program might include group or individual therapy.
  • Support network: It’s not uncommon for a person with cross addiction to attend multiple support group meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous. These networks provide the specialized support needed to help resist cravings and maintain a sober and healthy lifestyle.

Compass Mark will direct you to gambling addiction resources in the Lancaster and Lebanon area. Whether you need confidential answers to cross addiction questions or want to find a support network for the family of the addicted person, our team is dedicated to helping you live the life you deserve. Get in touch with us through our Get Help contact form or call us at (717) 299-2831.