Alcohol and Gambling- what’s the damage?

Australians gamble more per head than any other nation. This in itself isn’t necessarily a problem as, for some, gambling can be an enjoyable pastime. Often, people find that when they gamble recreationally, it is often in social situations where alcohol is abundantly available. It is common practice and, dare I say, emblematic of our Australian culture that the two occur hand in hand.

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So what? Well, Research has shown that consumption of merely 2 standard drinks impacts the rational-decision making centres of our brain and as a result, our judgment is impaired. This means that individuals who drink alcohol while gambling, are more likely to make poorer decisions which can result in larger bets, higher cash-in’s, longer sessions, etc. Across time, if individuals repeat this behaviour, a reinforcement pathway in our brain becomes finely tuned so that this behaviour becomes habitual. Alcoholism and problem gambling on their own are tricky habits to kick, so could you imagine the damage caused by the double threat? The good news is that treatments for both alcoholism and gambling are very similar in nature, and often people find that when they cut down in one area, they seem to notice a gradual decrease in the other.

The most common treatment available for both is Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or CBT for short. This involves a process where the individual works together with their therapist to first look at practical strategies to implement to make it easier for you to avoid anything that is going to trigger your gambling behaviour or substance use. In the case of gambling, this might include driving home from work via a different route so that you are not tempted to stop in to the club to gamble, or organize your finances so that you have less money available to you, or exploring different fun activities to substitute for your gambling. Then the therapist and individual will work together to look at the thoughts or beliefs that are driving this behaviour and motivating the individual to continue gambling. In the end, they will explore relapse prevention strategies to try and minimize the chances of this becoming a problem in the future.

So if you think this sounds like something you have been experiencing, there is help available. You can call Gambling Help on 1800 858 858 to speak with a gambling counsellor who will be able to provide more information to you. Free individual sessions are available to anybody who might be concerned their gambling has gotten out of hand.

image source: Flickr (creative commons license)

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