Addiction to illegal drugs and addiction to alcohol often co-occur within an individual with a mental disorder, such as depression or anxiety. In addition, those with a substance use disorder may cite stress as a factor that led to the development of their addiction.
When it comes to pathological gambling, there may be a connection to stress, and gambling may be a way that some individuals self-medicate to reduce the effects of stress in their lives. With the recent explosion of online gambling options, individuals may have this type of self-medication available at all times.
Recently, a group of researchers examined the factors involved with the development of gambling addiction, such as stressful life events, the proximity to gambling opportunities, as well as motivation and frequency in gambling-related behaviors (Thomas, Allen, Phillips & Karantzas, 2011).
To determine how these factors are connected with the development of a gambling addiction, the researchers recruited 347 participants, of whom 229 were female, through flyers on public message boards. The participants all used electronic gambling machines (EGM).
The researchers administered a survey that gathered demographic information as well as assessing the level of EGM gambling the participant was engaged in. The participants were also asked about stress levels since beginning EGM use and whether they used behaviors such as consuming alcohol, using drugs or eating to manage emotions related to events in their lives. Responses were measured using a 0 for “never” and 4 for “a lot of time”.
The participants also completed measures of EGM motivation, which assessed avoidance, accessibility and motivation, as well as the problem gambling severity index. The tools examined aspects such as whether gambling provided a break from stress or an opportunity to meet new people, versus other factors like proximity of a gambling outlet.
The results showed that self-reported stress was connected with avoidance, accessibility and motivation, and self-reported stress was connected with general avoidance coping and, in turn, avoidance-motivated gambling.
Among participants who indicated a stronger avoidance motivation and a stronger accessibility motivation for gambling, there was also a higher level of gambling-related problems and an increased frequency of using EGM games.
The authors of the study note that the design of the study is correlational, and does not provide any information about causality between the factors and gambling behaviors. In addition, the findings are all based on self-report and carry with them the limitations that stem from possible alterations in responses from reality.
The findings demonstrate that avoidance of stressful life events is an important factor connected with gambling. The study also shows that the use of drugs and alcohol to avoid problems is connected with avoidance-motivated gambling. Further study that focuses on the manipulation of certain factors may provide important information about causal relationships between stress and gambling.