Gambling and Substance Abuse

People often tend to think of addiction as merely physical dependency on a substance. But if that were the case, detox alone would be enough for people to overcome severe substance use disorder (SUD). In truth, SUD and alcohol use disorder (AUD) are chronic illnesses that require retraining thought patterns, often through therapy and other methods.

There are also behavioral addictions, such as food (overeating), sex, and gambling that may also be managed with professional help. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) currently only recognizes compulsive gambling as the only non-substance-related addiction, though there is mounting evidence to include other behavioral addictions as well.

Compulsive gambling functions similarly to SUD in many ways; and just like SUD, these addictions can be similarly devastating to someone as well as their loved ones.

Like with SUD, individuals suffering from gambling addiction often persist even after their addiction costs them career opportunities, relationships, or hinders their educational pursuits. People with gambling addictions also frequently gamble to escape feelings of anxiety, just as someone might use drugs or drink alcohol.

Co-occurring disorders (most often mood and anxiety related) are extremely common with SUD—affecting approximately 50% of people with addiction to substances. Gambling is also similar in this regard. However, when someone has a gambling disorder, the most common comorbidity is SUD.

Substance/alcohol misuse and gambling are also linked together in many instances. In Las Vegas especially, this connection is very apparent. The most common substance addiction linked with gambling is alcohol. These conditions often worsen each other largely due to the fact that alcohol and betting are usually available in the same venue. Gambling addiction is often a precursor to AUD. Alcohol and other substances lower inhibitions, which may lead someone to be more cavalier with the amount they’re willing to gamble. In turn, someone may turn to substances to escape the anxiety and depression they may feel due to a significant financial loss.

It should be noted that it is common for people with bipolar disorder to exhibit many of the same symptoms as a gambling addiction. In these instances, a patient would not be diagnosed with a gambling addiction, as the compulsive gambling is likely due to a manic episode.

When someone suffers from SUD and another mental disorder, it’s vital they undergo treatment for both simultaneously to achieve long term success in recovery. Fortunately for people struggling with gambling addiction and SUD, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is effective at treating both. 12-step programs are also used to treat gambling, drug, and alcohol addictions.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol, drugs, or gambling, it’s not too late to get help. American Addiction Centers’ (AAC) facilities like Desert Hope Treatment Center are equipped to treat SUD and co-occurring disorders simultaneously. Please reach out to an admissions navigator at to learn more.

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Desert Hope is located in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is easily accessible from most locations in the Southwest. We offer a full continuum of care that spans from inpatient medical detox and rehab to outpatient services and sober living. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Vegas or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.