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.


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