On alcohol and gambling and why they go together

Whether it’s a pint of beer while playing a slot machine or a glass of champagne at the Roulette table, we have to admit that gambling and alcohol do seem to make a good match. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s something wrong in the combination, unless these simple pleasures turn into serious addictions. In this article, we’ll have a look at the connection between them in the hope of educating our readers on how to play more responsibly, so that you can look forward to enjoying casino games without allowing gambling to take over your life.

The link between alcohol and gambling explained

Over time, it has been noted that people who gamble tend to drink more and to stay at a venue for much longer than intended. Of course, this makes perfect sense when you think of the way alcohol can help you feel more at ease and even more optimistic (especially when one has just started drinking). In fact, what alcohol does is lower your inhibitions, preventing you from thinking twice about the consequences of losing. For this reason, it’s not surprising that gambling establishments also serve alcohol to their clients, since their intention is to make them stay longer and gamble more (if you’d like to avoid this trap, then perhaps you should consider playing casino online instead and stay away from your drinks cabinet!).

Gambler and his alcohol

However, studies have shown that there are other aspects which contribute to this connection. Not only can alcohol worsen a gambling addiction, but gambling and alcohol can function as substitutes of each other. According to research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) in Wales, one in six respondents to a survey who sought help with their alcohol addiction admitted they had also had gambling problems. One may attribute this behaviour to an individual’s personality, and admittedly there are people who are more prone to getting addicted than others (due to issues having to do with background and self-control as well as a variety of emotional problems). However, we believe that what truly explains the close relationship between gambling and alcohol is something called addiction switching.

What is addiction switching?

It has been noted that people who have recovered from one particular addiction can take up another addicting behaviour more easily than others. Sometimes it’s not enough to treat an addiction on its own, since our brains tend to find a substitute behaviour which will provide similar results to the previous addiction, even if this is not an addictive substance like a drug or alcohol. The reason for this is that people do not essentially crave alcohol or gambling as such, but rather, they are actually craving the fulfilment of a psychological need that can result from them.

Since alcohol and gambling both provide a sense of reward and fulfilment, they can easily be switched for each other, or else people may pursue them both in order to get more of the same feeling. When recovering alcoholics gamble, their brain will remind them of the pleasurable feeling they used to derive from alcohol, since this ‘pleasure pathway’ remains imprinted in the brain. This is why alcoholics are "three times more likely to develop a gambling addiction than the population at large". 

Essentially, the brain in the above scenario will be aiming to produce the same feeling or high that we experience from the release of dopamine.

What is dopamine and how does it relate to gambling?

Dopamine is the chief neurotransmitter in our brain’s reward system, that makes us feel happy and hungry for more rewards (click here for more info). It is dopamine that is responsible for producing a sense of elation when one is taking a risk. This can lead to compulsive gambling, when the brain becomes so used to dopamine that it starts craving even more of it in order to trigger the reward system, hence making the individual gamble even more. This explains why one can still develop a gambling addiction, even though gambling itself is not a substance.

Something a bit similar develops when it comes to alcohol addiction. Studies have found that the brains of alcoholics become less responsive to dopamine, and prevent them from feeling the same elation that others feel from just a drink or two. The result: they will try to drink more in order to get that feeling, of course.

It’s no wonder then, that half of Gamblers Anonymous participants claimed that they experienced either alcohol or drug abuse, and 35-63% of individuals who seek treatment for excessive gambling also screened positive for a lifetime SUD, a percentage which is much higher than rates found in the general population (26.6%).

What can you do to prevent excessive gambling?

Fortunately, nowadays there is more awareness of gambling behaviour and how detrimental it can be to one’s private and social life. All casinos licensed under the UK Gambling Commission have measures in place in order to prevent players from gambling excessively, which fall under their responsible gaming policy. One of these measures is what we call a ‘self-exclusion facility’, which allows players to exclude themselves from playing at a casino for a certain period of time, and even for life!

The most reliable online casinos allow players to take a self-assessment test to check whether they’re at risk of developing a gambling issue. Some also provide Reality Check alerts, which will pop up to show how long players have been active and indicate their wins and losses. They also offer the chance of setting a deposit limit, for a day, week or even a month, since research has shown that the risk of excessive gambling is lowered if players decide in advance how much money they’d like to risk.

Unibet casino offers all these measures, and also has a tool to allow players to exclude themselves from specific products (for example casino only or betting only). LeoVegas casino is also very committed towards responsible gaming and has launched its own platform, LeoSafePlay, to provide support to players who have developed a gambling addiction or even those who know someone who is a problem gambler or an underage gambler.

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Tips on playing responsibly

Finally, CasinoHawks has come up with a few tips for players to avoid excessive gambling while at the same time not miss out on all the fun that casino games (and alcohol) can offer:

1. Set your weekly or monthly budget and stick to it. Easier said than done, but it’s very rewarding in the long term when you look back and feel you’ve gained some degree of control over yourself.
2. Make use of an online casino’s responsible gaming facilities mentioned above (and choose a casino that takes responsible gaming seriously!)
3. Try to separate drinking and gambling, or limit your drinking while gambling. This will help you avoid waking up the next morning only to regret how much you've allowed yourself to lose!
4. Practise being aware of your emotions and thought patterns. Mindfulness is one way of doing this, yet you don’t have to be a meditation guru to develop more self-awareness. Simply register what is going on in your mind, and whether your impulse to gamble more makes sense.
5. Avoid using gambling as an escape from other problems. If need be, seek professional help if you experience any signs of depression, anxiety or other psychological issues instead of reverting to gambling or alcohol.
6. Be aware of the Random Number Generator. If you understand how this works, you’ll know that you can never expect to win your next spin if you’ve lost the last few rounds. Casino game outcomes are totally random, and independent of how much you’ve been losing or winning during previous rounds.

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