On a losing streak: when drinking and gambling collide

Prof Gareth Roderique-Davies | August 2019 | 6 minutes

There are many commonalities between alcohol consumption and gambling that go beyond the potential for dependence and harm for individuals and society; here, Prof Roderique-Davies looks at the growth of gambling in the UK, and what happens when punters bet under the influence of alcohol.

Prof Gareth Roderique-Davies and Prof Bev John of the University of South Wales will be speaking at our conference on 18 September 2019.

It’s increasingly difficult to watch TV or use a smartphone without being bombarded by gambling adverts, often including incentives such as free bets. These adverts also urge punters to “gamble responsibly”, which at surface level at least seems like a sensible suggestion. However, it can be argued that this focus on the actions of consumers deflects any responsibility away from the industry itself.

The impact of gambling on society extends beyond the notion of ‘irresponsible’ gamblers, with problem gambling now being highlighted as an emerging public health issue. The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, has stated that, “While it may be harmless fun for some, gambling has great potential to cause harm to individuals and can have devastating effects on the people closest to them, and communities.”

Readers of alcohol-related blogs are no doubt experiencing a sense of déjà vu with this situation. There are many commonalities between alcohol consumption and gambling that go beyond the potential for dependence and harm for individuals and society. Both are underpinned by powerful and influential industries that have enjoyed a relaxation of regulation over recent decades and that engage in wide-reaching advertising and targeting of existing and new customer markets. Research from Australia strongly suggests that betting advertisement strategies are very appealing to children. Likewise, the drinks industry implemented similar strategies with sweet, vividly coloured alcoholic drinks in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when alcopops were successfully targeted at underage teenagers and their parents as a ‘safe’ starter drink.

There are many commonalities between alcohol consumption and gambling that go beyond the potential for dependence and harm for individuals and society. Both are underpinned by powerful and influential industries that have enjoyed a relaxation of regulation over recent decades and that engage in wide-reaching advertising and targeting of existing and new customer markets.

These industries are not mutually exclusive. Their overlapping influences create the possibility of even greater harm. In addition to the well-documented evidence of the potential for dependency in both drinking and gambling there is an increasing evidence base for the co-occurrence of pathological alcohol consumption and gambling behaviour. It would be a mistake to only focus on the extremes, with the propensity to cause harm or potential harm a very real possibility even in non-dependent individuals. After all, large sums of money can potentially be lost during a single drunken gambling session accessed with increasing ease on smartphones.

As Addictions Researchers and Psychologists, we are in the process of trying to unpick and understand the nature of the relationship between drinking and gambling. We have been working closely with Alcohol Change UK to look at issues such as impulse control, how drinking behaviour influences gambling behaviour, and attempting to broaden our understanding of what constitutes harm.

To find out more about Prof Gareth Roderique-Davies, visit his profile on the University of South Wales website here.

The Alcohol Change UK conference, ‘Alcohol and everything else: What to do when drinking isn’t the only issue’ will take place at Wrexham Glyndŵr University on Wednesday 18 September 2019.

Find out more and book your tickets