Problem Gambling & Substance use Disorders

People who have problems with gambling often have problems with alcohol or drugs.

73% had an alcohol disorder, 38% had a drug use disorder, 60% were nicotine dependent

To learn more, please download the problem gambling and substance use disorder fact sheet.

Specific patterns of substance use disorders and gambling disorders are important to identify and evaluate, i.e., someone who is addicted to cocaine may see gambling as a source of income to support their drug use.

Research suggests that around 14% of patients being treated for substance abuse also demonstrate comorbid pathological gambling behavior. This increases to about 23% for those being treated for substance abuse that have either a gambling disorder and/or a sub-clinical gambling problem.

A gambling disorder shares many characteristics with a substance use disorder, including:

  • Preoccupation with the activity
  • Using it to escape pain or uncomfortable feelings
  • Intense cravings
  • Need to increase the amount (of money spent gambling) over time to achieve the desired effect
  • Inability to stop despite negative consequences
  • Significant withdrawal symptoms

A gambling disorder differs from a substance use disorder in that:

  • There is no substance ingested
  • Financial bailout by family or friends who pay off debts of loved ones in hopes of getting them out of trouble.
  • People often “chase” their losses – trying to make back money that they have lost
  • There are no obvious signs: slurred speech, blood shot eyes, or stumbling. A gambling disorder has been called the “hidden addiction.”
  • Many addiction treatment professionals believe that a gambling disorder is extremely difficult to overcome because of the gambler’s belief in the possibility – however slim – that the next bet can result in a big win.



“I’m really in trouble with my gambling. It is out of control. I just got into a recovery program for my drinking. It seems like whenever I gamble, I have a much harder time not drinking. And when I drink, my gambling really takes off. I just wish I could stop.” –George, age 32

* Cowlishaw, S., Merkouris, S., Chapman, A., & Radermacher, H. (2013). Pathological and problem gambling in substance use treatment: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of substance abuse treatment. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2013.08.019