For many (and research suggests most) gamblers, alcohol and other hard drugs go hand in hand with gambling. More gamblers than not are also hooked on tobacco.
We all know, especially if we’ve thought about some of the issues discussed in this section, about the harms of drinking and tobacco. And it’s onvious that combining booze with gambling can result in some very bad decisions. But it’s possible to ‘know’ something while denying it, pushing the ‘knowledge’ into a locked room of the mind.
It’s significant that many of the people sharing their recovery from gambling stories, supporting each other and campaigning for industry and regulatory changes think nothing of promoting alcohol as FUN, a reward, a completely normal activity, safe as a ‘harmful flutter’ on the horses.
It’s not harmless, at all. The majority of gamblers and ex-gamblers are heavy drinkers and smokers. As well as the common harms to physical and mental health, the hard process of recovery from gambling will not be made easier by drinking. It’s likely to be made worse. A drinking session may blow away all resolve and convince an individual that a ‘flutter’ or two will be FUN. Also, the depression and anxiety that are inevitable from heavy drinking, like other drugs, may seriously hinder a recovery journey.
Frequently, an ex-gambler may not realise, or wish to realise, that they are potentially at high risk of dependency on and addiction to gambling. Across the UK population the latest research puts more than 8 million people drinking at high risk levels.
Yet, just as gambling is portrayed by industry as a harmless, FUN leisure activity for millions who will never encounter problems, so too is alcohol. In recovery communities where individuals share stories, engage in mutual support, campaign hard for changes in industry practices and regulation, it is common to see the same individuals celebrating the use of the hard drug known as alcohol.
Everyone is free to drink as much, gamble as much, take ‘street drugs’ (apart from illegality). No one can tell you you shouldn’t gamble your life away or drink yourself to death. You are free, you have complete personal responsibility to choose whatever ways you want to have FUN, and if those ways are harmful to you well it’s your life and you can do whatever you like with it. Look at all the drinks you can choose from, look at all those sparkly gambling games and exciting bets to choose from. Freedom!
Except. Your free choices can have a severe detrimental effect on people who have no choice in the matter. People who may as a consequence of your choices suffer violence and abuse, family breakdown, devastating debts, stigma. Children and grandchildren who love you and are broken when you die young or go to prison.
Addicts, as we know, are enormously self-centred. Their central love is the booze or the bet. (This is why, whatever pills or expert therapy, the one sure road to recovery is to give to the world, not steal from it. That’s not just recovery: it’s disovery of a more joyful, flourishing life.) And much of an addict‘s anguish locked in their own prison of self is the deep shame and guilt. That, along with the fact that they want to be free of it all, be out of the prison, out of the darkness and into light. After all, what all this ‘freedom of choice’ ignores is that nobody ever chooses to become a prisoner. Right at the heart of addiction is the elimination of freedom, choice and responsibility. Restoring these, step by step, is the way out.