By Mark Leyshon - Senior Policy Officer, Alcohol Concern / Alcohol Research UK


I was delighted to speak on behalf of Alcohol Concern at last week’s ‘Problem Gambling’ event in Cardiff, hosted by Citizen’s Advice, whose report ‘Out of Luck’ highlighted the devastating effects problem gambling has on individuals and families across the country.

Gambling has been prominent in the news in recent months, with campaigners urging the UK Government to be bold in its response to the problem of fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs). The machines, which currently allow single bets of £100 to be placed every 20 seconds, have been dubbed ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’, and the Gambling Commission reports that 43% of those that use the machines are at risk of, or already have, gambling problems.

Whilst close attention has been rightly paid to the role of FOBTs, one aspect of gambling that has received little attention to date is the co-occurrence with other potentially problematic behaviours, like heavy drinking. This formed the basis of my talk at last week’s event.

There is a growing body of research which indicates a link between drinking and gambling, and it seems that engagement in one of these behaviours may exacerbate the other, and accelerate negative outcomes.

It is likely that alcohol and gambling behaviours reinforce each other. Drinking stimulates betting, clouds judgement and reduces the gamblers’ restrictions on the amount of money they are willing to spend in a given session.

"Drinking stimulates betting, clouds judgement and reduces the gamblers’ restrictions on the amount of money they are willing to spend in a given session."

One study has shown that individuals who engage in frequent, high-risk or problematic gambling are more likely to face alcohol-related problems, and our own small survey of substance misuse service users in Wales, published in our ‘A Losing Bet? report, found that one in six who had sought help for alcohol problems also said that they had had problems with gambling.

Whilst being young and male seems to be a particular risk factor, as-yet-unpublished findings from a general population survey from the University of South Wales found that, although women tend to drink and gamble at lower levels than men, more women than men said that when they are gambling, they always drink alcohol. This might be because more women gamble as a social activity than men, but it could also suggest a trend of drinking and gambling at home.

More research examining the impact of alcohol and gambling amongst women would be welcome, so I’m pleased to see that applications are being invited for a full-time PhD research studentship at Glasgow Caledonian University examining women’s experiences of drinking and gambling.

However, there remain many other significant gaps in the research: for example, the relationship between drinking and gambling behaviours for those attending betting shops that are located close to licensed premises, especially in areas of deprivation; the prevalence of in-play online gambling on sports events at pubs and bars; the issue of lone drinking and gambling; the impact that different forms of marketing have on the those who gamble and consume alcohol at the same time; and, of course, the impact that drinking has on those who play FOBTs.

"One barrier to access common to both alcohol and gambling is the stigma that is associated with admitting a problem and seeking help for it."

Here at Alcohol Concern we believe that specialist treatment and support services should be available for all those who need them, and that improving access is vital. One barrier to access common to both alcohol and gambling is the stigma that is associated with admitting a problem and seeking help for it. Public health advocates need to continue to challenge the notion that alcohol and gambling are neutral products that merely cause problems in the hands of irresponsible consumers.


Find out more about problem gambling and the help available here.

If you're worried about our own or someone else's drinking, find out about the support available here


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