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Gambling and alcohol - A risky combination

Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)

Have you ever noticed that your gambling gets out of control when you drink? Or perhaps the reverse - that you drink more when you gamble?

It’s common to see people mixing drinking and gambling. For many people, the pair offer a way to socialise with others. The reality is, however, that mixing alcohol and gambling can actually be quite a risky combination.

For some people, drinking leads to excessive gambling, while for others, gambling may lead to excessive drinking. It’s hard to know what causes what, and it may vary from person to person. In these cases, the focus really becomes less about “the chicken or the egg”, and more about the risky combination of both alcohol and gambling.

When we drink, alcohol has an impact on the part of the brain called the Frontal Lobes. The frontal lobes of our brain are responsible for cognition, thoughts, memory, judgements, decision making, and impulse control. Drinking alcohol makes it much more difficult to regulate ourselves, reduces our inhibitions and makes it harder to make sound and rational decisions. Drinking alcohol can result in us taking risks we wouldn’t ordinarily take.

For some people, combining alcohol and gambling results in:

  • Drinking more than they intended to
  • Spending more money gambling than they intended to
  • Stay at the venue for longer than intended
  • Experiencing changes in mood as a consequence of drinking and gambling.

Gambling in itself can be an emotional roller coaster, and drinking can amplify that experience.

If you’re planning to spend time drinking or gambling, consider if you can have one without the other. If you are intending to both drink and gamble, think about ways in which you may be able to set pre-defined limits for yourself e.g. limits of money or time. Consider signing up for voluntary pre-commitments or placing limits on the betting apps ahead of time. Making these decisions once you’ve already have had something to drink can be very difficult, so planning in advance is always key.

Remember, one size does not fit all. For some people, having a drink and placing a bet may be possible without significant consequences or a loss of control. For other people, it is best to avoid the combination completely, especially if you are someone who is vulnerable to having difficulty controlling either your drinking or gambling.

For more support on this topic or any gambling issue you might want to talk about, call Gambler’s Help 1800 858 858.

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