For many, compulsive gambling occurs alongside substance addiction and negative mental health.
We probably can agree with the above statement from our own experience and observing the behaviour of others.
Traditionally for instance there have always been cultures of drinking and gambling. Working class males culture has historically witnessed the close tie between pub and bookies.
These days, as well as alcohol, drugs like cocaine and amphetamines are associated with gambling. Sometimes people who recover from one addiction such as gambling turn to another. This is called cross-addiction. Often addiction to substances and behavioural patterns occur together.
Several research studies suggest that between 50% and 75% of those with gambling addiction also have an alcohol addiction.
At a lower level, alcohol and other drugs lower inhibition and can encourage risky behaviours including gambling.
While we think addiction is and should be recognised as a severe mental disorder unfortunately it generally isn’t. Among many other things this means that there remains a very unsatisfactory approach by services to supporting the whole person. We so often hear of a situation where and individual is told by ‘mental health sercices’ that they cannot help unless addiction is first brought under control, while addiction services are ill-equipped to deal with things like severe depression. An individual may be sent from pillar to post.
Certianly any addiction may lead to or amplify mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. We also know that for many conditions such as anxiety, depression and trauma may be a root cause of developing an addiction to behavioural activities such as gambling and substance use provide a quick release from suffering, this known as self-medication.
While many can recover from a single addiction quite quickly – and maybe up to a third of people stop with no support whatsoever – the same is not true for many. At worst, a person may have to deal with the fallout of addiction such as debt, ill physical health, family breakdown, involvement with the criminal justice system, unemplyment, and the shame and guilt that come from internalised stigma. If co-occurring addictions and severe mental health issues are added to the profile, the situation is a tangle of complexities which will require a multi-agency support design appropriate to each individual circumstance. Unfortunately, this ‘whole person’ approach is not often evident.
At grassroots level, the immense value of peer support and initiaves from lived experience provides for many the rock upon which recovery can proceed. The learning from this peer-led work in substance harms is of high magnitude and can be shared with those in recovery from gambling harms.There are, for instance, 12-steps groups for people recovering from both gambling and substance addictions. Further, grassroots expertise can contribute to informing and shaping necessary policies and a rethinking of the field of recovery.
We have prepared a discussion document which you can read here.