Gambling and Alcohol

23 Dec 2021

Drinking and gambling go hand in hand for some people.

One of the things that can make gambling more complex is the relationship with alcohol and the potential to overlap. An Australian study found alcohol featured strongly in betting behaviour, with 64% of young men saying they had bet on sports while drinking.

This might not surprise you as a lot of people do their betting at the local pub, and pokies are often in venues that serve alcohol.

It’s not always easy to stay in control of your gambling or your drinking, especially when you’re in an environment that might increase the risks of both.

It takes a lot of courage and strength to take the first steps to regain control. You might be thinking about making a change for yourself, or you might be concerned about someone you love. Whatever your situation, learning more about gambling is a great place to start.

We look at the links between gambling and drinking and where you can get help here.


Links between gambling and alcohol

Gambling and drinking may look different from the outside, but problem gambling and alcoholism share some similarities. They can both involve:

  • Strong urges to gamble or drink more to get the same feeling
  • Preoccupation with thoughts and feelings to gamble or drink
  • Impaired control
  • Increased impulsivity.

With more research, we can now understand that gambling activates the brain's reward system in the same way that drinking does. When we gamble, we get a dopamine hit, and this can become addictive the same way it can with alcohol.

When people either gamble or drink, the brain is flooded with positive emotions, lighting up the same parts of the brain. This may help us understand why alcohol might become a problem for some people who like to gamble.

One study found 73% of people with problem gambling also had an alcohol-use disorder.

It can be hard for some friends and family of people with problem gambling to understand why they “just can’t stop”. But gambling is a recognised disorder with a similar addictive nature to alcohol.


Risks of gambling under the influence

When drinking and gambling come together, it can be an unsafe cycle. Alcohol can play a large role in loss of control over gambling.

Even just a few drinks can increase the risk of problem gambling. It can lead to:

  • Reduced inhibitions
  • Increased impulsivity
  • Impaired control
  • Impaired judgement
  • Difficulty sticking to limits
  • Losing track of time
  • Increased confidence to keep gambling
  • Reduced feelings about losing
  • Chasing losses
  • Changes in mood
  • General changes in behaviour.

Someone who’s drinking while gambling might bet higher and for longer than they normally would. You might think everything is fine after a few drinks, and then realise the next day that it’s a problem.


Tips to reduce gambling harm

If you’re worried about your gambling, you might like to consider these strategies.

Stay connected

When working on reducing harm around gambling, staying connected with the right people can make all the difference. You don’t have to do it alone.

Choose wisely who you spend your time with. Do you surround yourself with people who get you? Do they respect what you’re going through and support your goals to make changes?

Sharing your goals with someone you trust can help you stay on track and keep you accountable. Or simply having someone to talk to can bring relief and make you feel less alone.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety – it’s connection.

Fill your time

Boredom can trigger urges to gamble. When cutting down or quitting activities that include gambling, it’s important to find other activities to fill that time.

You might like to revisit an old hobby like going to the gym, or plan social events like a movie or board games night with friends – whatever brings fulfilment and keeps you busy.

Create barriers to gamble

If you’d like to reduce your gambling, it could help to make it logistically harder to gamble. For example:

  • Limit your access to money by only taking what you can afford to lose
  • Delete betting apps to reduce the habit of accessing them every time you open your phone
  • Avoid locations and situations that make you want to gamble and/or drink, and offer an alternative location to catch up (e.g. instead of the pub, suggest a café, park, or beach).

Reach out for help

Reaching out or asking for help can feel daunting. It’s not easy to open up and feel vulnerable. But don’t let that stop you. It can bring a strong sense of relief and be the first step to get you the support you need.

We offer free and confidential counselling in person and over the phone. You can call the 24/7 gambling helpline on 1800 858 858 to talk to someone or book an appointment in person.

Our services are here for anyone impacted by gambling, including friends and family. If you’re worried about someone you care about, it’s important to look after yourself too.

If you’re worried about your drinking, you might like to keep these contacts handy:

  • ADIS (24/7 support for Queenslanders with alcohol and other drug concerns): 1800 177 833
  • 13 HEALTH (24/7 health advice for Queenslanders): 13 43 25 84

Contact us

If gambling is impacting your life or a loved one's life, it's okay to reach out for help. It’s free and confidential.

Call the 24/7 Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858

Face-to-face counselling locations