The Similarities Between Alcoholism and Gambling Addiction

In 2013 the American Psychiatric Association added Gambling Disorder to the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).  In doing so, pathological gambling was recognized by mental health professionals as an addiction similar to an alcohol or drug addiction.  Despite obvious differences, primarily one being that gambling is a behavioral addiction whereas drugs and alcohol are substance addictions, there are more commonalities between the two than one might think.


Signs an Addiction Problem Exists

Both gambling and drug or alcohol addiction share many commonalities in terms of signs that an addiction problem exists.  For example, an addiction may be present to either gambling or alcohol and drugs if the individual has had failed attempts to stop or reduce their behavior.  Both gambling addiction and addiction to drugs or alcohol also involve a preoccupation and a persistent need to engage in the behavior despite adverse consequences such as loss of relationships, jobs or legal issues.  Both also involve engaging in the behavior in greater frequency, duration, or quantity over time – the addiction is progressive in nature.


Similar Risk Factors.

Individuals who are susceptible to gambling addiction have similar risk factors as those who are prone to develop an addiction to alcohol or drugs.



Males are more likely to develop addictions to both gambling and substances.


Mental Health Issues

There are high rates of comorbidity between addiction to substances or to gambling with mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and other mood disorders.  Furthermore, individuals who suffer from alcohol use disorder are more susceptible to develop a gambling disorder.



There are genetic links between an individual developing an addiction to alcohol or gambling and with a relative suffering from an alcohol use disorder or having a mental health diagnosis.



For both alcohol or drug addiction as well as for gambling addiction, individuals who are frequently exposed to substance use or gambling use in their environment, especially as children, are at higher risk of developing an addiction.



Addiction is commonly referred to as a “brain disease” because of the impact addictions have  on the brain.  Whether you adhere to the disease model of addiction or not (most addiction experts do), the toll addictions place on the brain are undeniable as evidenced by neuroscience and neuroimaging.  Both gambling addiction and addiction to drugs or alcohol impact the brain in the following similar ways:


  1. Disruption of the brains reward system, resulting in regular life pleasures no longer bringing pleasure. This is why many people with addictions often report having a low mood, mimicking symptoms of depression.


  1. Disruption of the brain circuits involved in impulse control in the prefrontal cortex, making it more difficult for individuals with addictions to resist drugs, alcohol, or to engage in gambling.


  1. Individuals who have developed addictions to substances or to gambling have neurally embedded associations and memories with their addictive behaviors, resulting in minuscule things triggering them that may not even enter the conscious mind.



For all of the aforementioned reasons with respect to the impact of addiction on the brain, as well as other factors, relapse rates for both substance use disorders and gambling disorders are extremely high.  For example, it is estimated that 40-60% of individuals relapse on drugs and alcohol within the first 30 days of leaving an inpatient treatment center, and up to 85% of individuals relapse within their first year.  Problem gamblers have the highest rates of relapse of all the various addictions, with up to an estimated 90% relapse rate during the first year of recovery.  As such, it is imperative that individuals receive the support they need to maintain abstinence from their addiction, especially during their first year of recovery which is a critical time to build a foundation for a long-term successful outcome.



While it is commonly known that individuals can experience withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and drugs, it is less commonly known that individuals can also experience withdrawal symptoms from gambling.  Gambling withdrawal symptoms may include things such as restlessness, insomnia, depression, anxiety, or irritability when the individual attempts to reduce or stop their gambling.  The primary difference between alcohol or drug withdrawal from gambling withdrawal is that substance withdrawal can have severe physical manifestations that can be fatal and may require medical attention, especially for alcohol addiction, benzodiazepine addiction, and opioid addiction.


Alleviation of Underlying Symptoms

It is commonly said that addiction is not the primary issue, but rather was the solution to the primary issue.  For individuals who are addicted to either drugs and alcohol or to gambling, they are often engaged in their addiction as a form of escape.  In many cases their addiction serves as a means to cope with mental health issues such as depression or anxiety, to deal with general life stressors, or to forget past or current trauma such as sexual abuse, domestic violence, abandonment, or grief.  For many of the aforementioned reasons and others, individuals who develop addictions are often seeking to escape reality and fill their internal void with something external.



Some say that addiction is the “loneliest game in town.”  Although there are many individuals who develop addictions and are still social beings, more often than not individuals with addictions tend to isolate.  This is the case for various reasons such as not wanting others to disturb or intervene in their addiction, feeling a sense of sadness and therefore isolating as a means of coping, increased pleasure when they can be focused solely on their addiction, or because their relationships may have deteriorated as a result of their addiction and they are subsequently left all alone.


Lying and Secrecy

Lying and secrecy are common staples that coincide with an addiction, be it from alcohol, drugs or gambling.  Individuals who are addicted attempt to hide their addiction from others, especially their loved ones, out of fear of intervention, rejection, or judgement.  Addictions are also often hidden due to immense feelings of guilt or shame that one has about their addiction; specifically, their inability to cut down or stop or how it is affecting their loved ones.



Gambling has obvious implications on one’s finances, but so do drugs and alcohol.  Depending on the substance being used, frequency of use, and quantity of use, a drug and alcohol addiction can be very expensive.  For example, it is not uncommon for an opioid addiction or cocaine addiction to cost an individual upwards of $300 per day depending on their habit.  As such, both gambling addiction and substance abuse can result in individuals digging deep into their bank accounts to support their addiction, or in some cases can result in cheating, stealing, liquidating assets, or engaging in illegal activity such as drug dealing, money laundering, scheming investors, tax evasion, or embezzlement.


Impact on Family and Personal Life

Both gambling addiction and alcohol or drug addiction can take a significant toll on loved ones.  Individual’s with addiction can often cause a great deal of stress, anxiety, sadness, anger and other such issues for family and friends.  Furthermore, it often causes relationship issues as the addicted individual chooses to gamble or engage in substance use rather than spending time with their loved ones.  Both addictions can also significantly impact an individual’s personal life such as their career, estate, sleep hygiene, or overall physical and mental health.


Risks of Fatality

While many individuals are aware of the risks of overdose, withdrawal, and death that may ensue from a drug or alcohol addiction, much less are aware of the fatal nature of gambling.  Of all the various forms of addiction, gambling addiction has the highest rates of suicide.  Studies have found that problem gamblers are 15 times more likely to take their own life than an average individual, and that 1 in 5 individuals with a gambling addiction attempt suicide.  As such, it is important to be mindful of the severity of gambling well beyond one’s net worth.



Neither addiction to alcohol or to gambling is easy to manage or to recover from.  Whether you suffer from gambling addiction, alcoholism, or drug addiction, you very well may need professional help from an addiction specialist in order to recover, such as from an addictions coach, addiction therapist, addiction psychiatrist, or other such addiction expert.  While drug and alcohol addiction may require a medical detox depending on the severity of the substance abuse history, thereafter the treatments for substance abuse and for gambling addiction utilize similar therapeutic practices such as Motivational Interviewing and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  Furthermore, medically assisted treatment can be effective for substance abuse (such as Antabuse, Naltrexone, or Buprenorphine for example) as well as for gambling disorder (such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, or even Naltrexone).


If you are seeking help for your addiction or for your loved one’s addiction, it may be worthwhile searching online for an addiction specialist near me who specializes in gambling or substance abuse, or for example, alcohol addiction help Upper East Side if you live in the Upper East Side of Manhattan New York City.  The more specific the online search is in terms of specificity of the addiction problem, location, type of treatment modality and type of mental health therapist you are seeking, the better outcomes you will have in terms of finding someone to help you with your addiction and specific needs.  Links at the end of this article may be helpful in navigating you through the process of finding the proper level of care and the best addiction expert to work with. 


Additionally, mutual help groups may be helpful such as SMART Recovery or Refuge Recovery for both alcohol and drug addiction or for gambling addiction; or for alcoholism there is Alcoholics Anonymous or AA, for drug addiction there is Narcotics Anonymous or NA (as well as other more substance specific 12-Step programs such as Heroin Anonymous, Marijuana Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous or Crystal Meth Anonymous), and for Gambling Addiction there is Gamblers Anonymous or GA.  Simply do an online search for your preferred mutual help group, and you can find an in-person or virtual meeting in your area.  Be mindful that such mutual help groups are not a replacement for addiction therapy or addiction treatment, but rather serve as a support system.  Such groups are not run by addiction professionals, but rather by other individuals in long-term recovery.


Understandably, finding the right type of professional help for an addiction can be a stressful and challenging thing to do.  It can be overwhelming if you are not well versed in addiction or if this is your first time trying to deal with such an issue.  For example, many do not know the difference between inpatient alcohol treatment and outpatient alcohol treatment, or an alcohol detox and an alcohol rehabilitation center.  What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and what are evidence based treatments?  What is the difference between an addiction therapist and an addiction psychiatrist?  Such complexities can be answered by lengthy research or speaking with an addiction expert who specializes in doing consultations for addiction who can address your concerns and place you or your loved one with the right addiction specialist in the correct addiction treatment setting. Many also find help through contacting insurance providers or state and federal agencies dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues, such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health service Administration.


We have put together a guide to help individuals navigate addiction treatment for alcohol, drugs, and gambling, as well as for other types of addiction in a blog titled, “A Guide to the Different Pathways of Addiction Recovery.”


A blog titled, “My Loved One Has an Addiction, What Do I Do? – A Guide to Help You Navigate Recovery,” may also be useful for loved ones of an addicted individual trying to navigate the situation.


For more information on NYC addiction treatment and to find the best addiction counselor, or for general therapy and mental health, or to inquire about Family Addiction Specialist’s private concierge sober coach Manhattan, recovery coach Manhattan, sober companion Manhattan, Manhattan addiction therapy services and/or our Manhattan teletherapy services (online therapy/virtual therapy), as well as our Manhattan hypnosis services in New York City please contact our undisclosed therapy office location in the Upper East Side of NYC today at (929) 220-2912.

Lin Sternlicht & Aaron Sternlicht

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