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Breaking the link between depression and gambling

By: Georgia Ashworth (clinical psychology registrar) & Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)

Research has shown for some time that depression and gambling addiction are linked. However, the relationship between the two is far from simple. In fact, you could say ‘it’s complicated’.

Firstly, we know that gambling can be a way to relieve unpleasant feelings. Someone that is experiencing symptoms of depression (e.g., low mood or motivation, feelings of hopelessness) is more likely to gamble. And they’re more likely to gamble in the hopes of experiencing the highs of gambling, which in turn alleviates some of the underlying feelings of depression.

Over time, gambling becomes a way of coping and a short-term solution to these feelings. It provides a sense of excitement, or an escape from unpleasant emotions. However, this band-aid approach leads to a vicious cycle where the gambling behaviour is reinforced over and over again as a way of feeling better. This connection is so strong that research has found evidence to suggest that depression is among several factors that can lead to gambling addiction.

Helpful questions to consider might be:

  • What does gambling offer me that I don’t get in other areas of my life?
  • How do I feel when not gambling?
  • What emotions am I trying to escape?
  • Do I gamble more when I’m feeling low?

The second relationship to consider is how gambling addiction contributes to depression. Gambling has been shown to negatively impact an array of life domains including financial, physical wellbeing, mental well-being, and relationships. When these areas begin to suffer, stress inevitably rises and the risk of depression increases.

Emotionally, gambling can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem, all of which increase someone’s vulnerability to developing depression.

It can be helpful to take stock of the impacts of gambling, whether this be money lost, relationships harmed or negative feelings toward yourself. Whilst difficult, bringing attention to the losses can help in building motivation to change, and a starting point for developing goals moving forward.

So, what does all this mean?

Essentially, gambling addiction can be the result of depression, and the cause of greater levels of distress. If gambling is being used to cope with underlying low mood then seeking help and learning more helpful coping strategies for depression is recommended.

If gambling is contributing to feelings of depression through creating more stressors, first take stock of these stressors and devise some goals of what you would like to change.

It is always best to do this with the support of a mental health professional or gambling support group. Depression and gambling have a close relationship, but with the right support, the vicious cycle can be broken.

For more support on this topic or any gambling issue, you might want to talk about, call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858 or visit our Find Support page for more options.

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