Gambling as a Coping Mechanism: How Trauma Can Lead to Gambling Harm

5 Jul 2023

Trauma can have profound and long-lasting effects on a person’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

Painful memories and negative emotions may linger in the aftermath, leading to possible mental health issues such as depression, PTSD, or anxiety.

Some people use gambling to escape from the stress and emotional pain caused by their trauma. While gambling might offer temporary distraction and relief, people who have experienced trauma are at a higher risk and vulnerability of gambling harm.

In this blog post, Gambling Help Community Educator Amy looks at how trauma can contribute to gambling harm, exploring ways to better understand and support those who are impacted.

Content warning: This article includes brief mention of traumatic events. If this brings up any issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

If you or someone you know is impacted by gambling harm, free and confidential help is available. Call the 24/7 helpline on 1800 858 858 or learn more about the support options available.



Understanding Gambling Harm and Trauma

There are many factors that can contribute to a person’s risk of developing gambling-related harm, including growing up around people who gamble, living with mental illness, or experiencing traumatic or stressful life events.

Research shows traumatic experiences can lead to intense emotional distress, highlighting that people who have been through a traumatic experience might seek ways to self-soothe and cope with their emotions. This can include adopting risky behaviours such as substance abuse or gambling.

The study shows that individuals who engage in harmful gambling behaviours are more likely to have survived childhood trauma and/or life stressors in adulthood.

This trauma may result from a single incident (e.g. a car accident) or repeated and prolonged events (e.g. domestic violence).

Some traumatic or distressing events might include:

  • Death of a loved one
  • Natural disasters
  • Sudden illness
  • Serious accidents
  • Emotional or physical abuse
  • Vicarious trauma.

Gambling may provide temporary relief from difficult emotions following these events, but it can also lead to financial pressure, social isolation, and adverse mental health. Instead of being a long-term solution, it can exacerbate the emotional challenges caused by the traumatic or distressing event.

With this being said, just because someone has suffered trauma, it does not necessarily mean they will develop harmful gambling behaviours. However, it is important to be aware that trauma can be a risk for developing gambling-related harm.


Helping Yourself or a Loved one

Recognising the connection between trauma and gambling harm can help us better support the people we care about or better understand our own gambling behaviours.

If you or a loved one is turning to gambling as a coping mechanism, it’s important to know that help is available. Seeking support can look different for everyone, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.

Self-help resources are a great way to learn more about gambling harm and consider how you’d like to make changes with your own habits. They can also be helpful for friends and family members to deepen their understanding.

A self-exclusion allows you to ban yourself from specific gambling providers, products, or services.

Professional counselling – whether in person, over the phone, or videocall – can empower you to heal in a confidential, supportive, and non-judgemental environment.

Reaching out to a professional can be an important first step to explore what’s going on for you, find healthy coping skills, and reconnect with the important values and people in your life.

Our experienced counsellors help anyone impacted by gambling harm by not only focusing on gambling behaviours, but by supporting you with other issues that may be contributing.

Hope, understanding, and support is possible for those impacted, and early intervention can go a long way to enable growth and healing towards positive mental, emotional, and financial wellbeing.

You can call the 24/7 gambling helpline on 1800 858 858 to chat or make a face-to-face appointment. We offer free and confidential support to anyone impacted by gambling harm.

Learn more about our gambling support services here.



We understand this article may bring up some difficult emotions for some people. Please know you are not alone and you can reach out for support.

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14 - Crisis Support. Suicide Prevention

Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636

Beyond Blue | 24/7 Support for Anxiety, Depression and Suicide Prevention

1800 Respect – 1800 737 73

Home | 1800RESPECT – National Domestic, Family & Sexual Violence Counselling Service

Open Arms – 1800 011 046

Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling – Veterans and Families Counselling Support

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