COVID-19 and Problem Gambling

COVID-19 has led to significant problems all across the globe and is impacting our lives in many different ways. While most people are currently focused on fighting this global health pandemic and are concerned with their physical hygiene, it is also important to focus on one’s mental hygiene. If we are not vigilant about our mental well-being during this time, we may be faced with a mental health pandemic in the aftermath of the coronavirus. Current evidence suggests that the number of people experiencing mental health related issues as well as addiction related issues is on the rise. The data indicates a significant uptick in online gambling is occurring, so much so that it has forced political leaders, gambling councils, and the industry itself to place restrictions on the frequency of betting and amount that can be bet as well as on advertisements that promote gambling.


Why has COVID-19 led to an increase in gambling?


There are some obvious and not so obvious reasons why we are witnessing an increase in problem gambling. One reason is that many of the major triggers for gambling are being exacerbated during this period of quarantine and stay-at home orders. These triggers include loneliness, boredom, stress, anxiety, and depression. As many of us are currently isolated in our homes, gambling has become an outlet to reduce restlessness and monotony and to cope with loneliness and negative mood.


Additionally, working from home removes some of the barriers and safety nets that some people have relied on to help manage their gambling consumption. For example, at home there is almost no supervision or support from managers or colleagues. In addition, there may be more down time, and there is likely no online blocking software or risk of getting caught gambling while at home. Being at home also means more screen time for many. As such, there is an increase in exposure to gambling related advertisements that can serve as a significant trigger to gamble.


Furthermore, as all major sports have shut down, gamblers are switching from betting on sports to playing online casino games that are readily accessible but also much riskier. Casino games can also be more addictive than other forms of gambling. For example, studies suggest that about 1% of people who take part in any form of gambling have a gambling problem compared with 10% of people who strictly play casino games.


Risk factors associated with increased gambling during COVID-19.


During this time of rising unemployment and global economic instability, some are increasingly turning to gambling as a source of income. If one is facing personal financial challenges, gambling can present significant problems. It is important for individuals to be aware that debt is a risk factor for mental health issues and that turning to gambling during this time is not a safe or reliable source of financial support. Financial problems can exacerbate feelings of hopelessness and fast-track many individuals to a very dark place. This is especially important for problem gamblers to pay attention to because among all of the various addictions (e.g., alcohol, drugs, sex), those with a gambling addiction have the highest suicide rate. This is because gambling can lead to severe debt that can intensify feelings of hopelessness and vulnerability. 


How do I know if I or a loved one has a problem with gambling?


Having a problem with gambling or having a gambling addiction is not a one-size-fits-all issue.  There are many different classifications of problem gambling. For example, compulsive gambling is when an individual cannot control their gambling despite adverse consequences. A binge gambler is someone who exhibits compulsive gambling symptoms but only at certain times and for certain durations. There are also problem gamblers who may not meet the clinical criteria for a gambling disorder, but their habits are not entirely under control or their gambling is causing personal or interpersonal problems in their life.


One of the best questions to ask yourself if you think you may have a problem with gambling is whether your gambling is negatively impacting an area of your life, be it your mental health, physical health, relationships, career, finances, personal hygiene, sleep pattern, general well-being, etc. If the answer is yes, then your gambling habits are something that you should take a closer look at and perhaps seek professional help from a mental health professional.


Some signs of a gambling addiction include the following:



What should I do if I or a loved one has a gambling problem?


If you believe your gambling or that of a loved one is problematic, there are some concrete and simple self-help strategies you can utilize from home, even amidst our current pandemic:


Lin Sternlicht & Aaron Sternlicht

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