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Gambling, Alcohol and Drugs

Written by: Daniel Umfleet
Fact-checked by: Pat Eichner
12 min read

Gambling, alcohol, and drugs

The use of alcohol or drugs and gambling are certainly connected, and for some people, the two go hand in hand. Brick and mortar casinos serve alcohol, and having a couple of drinks is a big part of how the night-out-at-the-casino experience is sold to people. Even though they may not be legal, it would be naive to think that other drugs are not also part of the gambling habits of many people. 

Misusing alcohol and drugs poses serious risks. In the short term or in smaller quantities, it affects your mood, decision-making ability and health. In more serious cases of addiction or disordered use, it can lead to extremely serious physical and mental health problems, financial ruin and death.

In combination with gambling, all of these effects can be magnified. Both gambling and using alcohol and drugs are potentially addictive behaviors that chemically alter the brain. 

Put simply, it’s more difficult to practice safe and responsible gambling if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. On this page, we’re going to explain exactly why gambling under the influence is a bad idea, the chemical effect of drugs and alcohol, and how different types of substances affect your gambling habits. 

Why Gambling Under the Influence Is a Bad Idea

Practicing responsible gambling relies on several things. You need a clear head, discipline, and a clarity of purpose - all of which are widely acknowledged to be affected when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You are more likely to lose track of time or forget about your budget, or lose your ability to make smart tactical decisions in the game you are playing. 

It’s true that alcohol and other intoxicating substances affect people to different degrees, and some people might even think that one or two drinks loosens them up and helps them relax, or even play better. But this is a fallacy. 

The fact is, the effects of any amount of alcohol or drugs will negatively affect your ability to make sound decisions and gamble responsibly. 

Ultimately, it’s up to each individual how they want to approach their gambling and drinking, and it’s not realistic to simply suggest that no one ever drinks alcohol or takes other intoxicating substances while they gamble. Clearly, people are going to do it. 

But we need to be honest with ourselves and accept that it is not going to help us gamble smarter or safer. As with gambling in general, moderation and recognizing the dangers associated with combining drugs and alcohol with gambling is key.


Expert Opinion - Gambling Under the Influence

Making financial decisions when under the influence of drugs or alcohol is a big red flag. Just don't do it. Your risk-taking safeguards disappear quickly, your serotonin levels shift, and your dopamine responses shift. It's a bad idea. 

Because drugs and alcohol mess with your brain chemistry, the best course of action is to just stay away from the tables, slot machines, and smartphone apps - all of it, when you know the game plan for your day's activity includes drugs and alcohol.

The financial repercussions that stem from gambling activity going awry due to overconsumption of alcohol, marijuana, or cocaine, or not knowing how your body is going to respond to mushrooms or MDMA, will just lead to unwanted headaches when the hazy cloud passes and the drugs and alcohol leave your body. Don't do more damage to yourself.

- Daniel Umfleet
Founder & CEO at Kindbridge

Comparing gambling dependence and chemical dependenceComparing Gambling Dependence and Chemical Dependence

From a medical perspective, there are clear links between gambling dependence and alcohol and drug use and misuse. 

To pick one example, research published by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists in 2015, examining data amongst gamblers in the US, found that just under 60% of people who report problem gambling also have problems with alcohol and drugs. The same study found that people who drink too much are more likely to develop issues with gambling than the average person. 

Being addicted to something like alcohol (where your body becomes dependent on the substance) is not exactly the same as a gambling addiction, but there is an undeniable connection between the two. From a medical perspective, gambling addiction is based around the feelings of euphoria and excitement you get from the dopamine released by your brain when you gamble. You can read more about the process in our Gambling and Mental Health page

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM is the main reference book for the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in the US, including alcohol disorders, drug addiction, and various mental or personality disorders. In 1980, thanks to the work of Dr. Robert Custer and his research with compulsive gamblers, Pathological Gambling became the first non-chemical addiction in the DSM.

The symptoms of acute gambling disorder and drug or alcohol addiction can be very similar: social isolation, an unwillingness or inability to stop the harmful behavior, and depression and mental turmoil to name a few. 

Gambling and Alcohol

Most brick and mortar casinos serve alcohol and for many people, the idea of an evening out at the casino involves also having a few drinks. In fact, many casinos serve people alcohol for free as long as they are gambling. 

We all know this, but it’s worth taking a step back and asking why this is the case. The answer is simple and obvious: casinos know that people are more likely to gamble more and ultimately lose more money when they are under the influence of alcohol. As we’ve covered, people become more reckless, lose track of time, and lose sight of things like their budget when they are drunk. 

For the average person, being drunk simply makes it more difficult to make smart, responsible decisions while gambling. 

Just like setting a budget for your gambling, deciding to only have a certain number of drinks in advance is a good way to mitigate the risks of drinking and gambling. If you are really serious about giving yourself the best chance both of winning strategy games like poker or blackjack and of playing responsibly in general - avoiding alcohol altogether is your best option. 

In addition to more casual and socially acceptable alcohol use while gambling, having a serious alcohol dependency and gambling is a disastrous combination. All of the effects we’ve already mentioned are magnified with severe alcohol problems. Addicts may be tempted to turn to gambling as a source of income to fund their alcohol dependency, one of the red flags of a gambling disorder.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Abuse and Mental Health conducted in 2020, over 10% of people in the US aged 12 or older have reported to have struggled with alcohol use at some point. This means that around 28 million people are uniquely vulnerable to problem gambling in the US alone, as a symptom of their struggles with alcohol. 

Gambling and marijuanaGambling and Marijuana

Recreational marijuana is now legal in 19 states in the US, and still more states allow medical usage. The effects of recreational marijuana use are quite different from alcohol, but it has also been shown to have adverse effects in relation to gambling. 

A study by the Gambling Research Exchange (GREO) found the following:

“In healthy individuals, the effects of cannabis can reduce decision-making and lead to risk-taking. Cannabis may also lead to continued risky actions. Recent use of cannabis, such as past-day use, has been found to lead to worse decision-making. The effects of cannabis on decision making may result in more harm in a gambling setting.”

The same study found that both youths and adults who use cannabis are more likely to gamble, and recommended that the drug not be sold in casinos. 

Similar to alcohol, everyone has a different tolerance level for marijuana and in low doses, the effect might not be extremely acute. However, it’s important to acknowledge that any use of a psychoactive substance like marijuana clouds your judgment and ultimately hinders your ability to gamble responsibly.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse has found that “People who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience an acute psychosis, which includes hallucinations, delusions, and a loss of the sense of personal identity”

Again, these are dangerous effects in themselves and even more so when combined with gambling. 

Gambling and Other Recreational Drugs

While alcohol and (to varying degrees depending on your location) marijuana are legal intoxicants that people are free to use while they gamble, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the many illegal substances that people may also use while gambling. 

The risks with these types of drugs are much greater than with regulated substances like alcohol or cannabis. Taking a safe dose is much more complicated, and you can never be exactly sure what you are consuming.

All the dangers we’ve already covered regarding alcohol and cannabis are massively magnified with illegal recreational drugs. It becomes extremely difficult to gamble responsibly when using drugs and it should be avoided. 


Cocaine is the most commonly used recreational drug while gambling. It is a stimulant, often producing feelings of euphoria and excess energy in the short term. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2021, about 1.7% or 4.8 million people in the US reported using cocaine in the previous 12 months.

Cocaine has several effects that make it much more difficult to gamble responsibly. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, it makes users hypersensitive to sight, sound, and other sensations, which would be especially acute in a busy casino. It can also temporarily remove the desire for food or rest, both of which are essential components of practicing responsible gambling. 

Although cocaine use is probably relatively common in brick-and-mortar casinos, it certainly does not help you gamble safely or intelligently.


Expert Sidebar - Gambling and Cocaine

While it's widely acknowledged that alcohol and gambling often go hand in hand, understanding the risks associated with combining different substances with gambling is crucial. Aside from alcohol and marijuana, various recreational drugs are used alongside gambling, with cocaine being one of the most common. The stimulant properties of cocaine can heighten impulsivity and distort perception, making responsible gambling incredibly challenging.

Moreover, the prevalence of these substances in brick-and-mortar casinos underscores the need for greater awareness of the risks they pose to individuals' gambling behaviors. Recognizing that different substances can amplify the negative effects of gambling is essential for promoting responsible behavior within the gambling community.

- Daniel Umfleet
Founder & CEO at Kindbridge


Psilocybin - the chemical found in magic mushrooms - is a psychedelic drug that produces hallucinations and feelings of euphoria when taken recreationally. 

In fact, some modern studies have suggested that clinical psilocybin therapy can have a positive effect on a range of addictive behaviors, including gambling disorders. However, it’s crucial to differentiate between these safe, medical interventions and recreational use. 

According to MedicalNewsToday, when used recreationally magic mushrooms can cause visual and auditory hallucinations and distort the perception of the world. This makes gambling responsibly - which requires a clear head and sound judgment - very difficult. 

MDMA, MDA, and Party Drugs

Party drugs like MDMA produce feelings of rushing euphoria, distortions in time and perception, and heightened emotional responses. Again, all of these physical effects hinder responsible gambling. 

With all the recreational drugs we’ve mentioned here, the key thing is to not combine them with gambling on a night out, or incorporate a trip to the casino on a night in which you have decided to take recreational drugs. Drugs and intoxicants of all times are guaranteed to lower your inhibitions while gambling, cause you to make worse decisions, and in extreme cases can contribute to a spiral of addiction.

Reference List

  1.  https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-and-other-substance-use.html 

  2.  https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohols-effects-body 

  3.  ​​https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25735959/ 

  4. https://gamblershelp.com.au/learn-about-gambling/gambling-and-how-it-affects-the-brain/

  5. https://www.gaming.ny.gov/gaming/20140409forum/Reilly%20(National%20Responsible%20Gambling%20Council)/Supplemental%20Material/Reilly%20and%20Smith,%20Evolving%20Definition%20of%20Pathological%20Gambling%20in%20DSM-V%20(2013).pdf 

  6. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/reports/rpt35325/NSDUHFFRPDFWHTMLFiles2020/2020NSDUHFFR1PDFW102121.pdf 

  7. https://www.greo.ca/Modules/EvidenceCentre/files/Punia%20et%20al%20(2020)_Understanding%20overlap%20between%20cannabis%20use%20gambling%20behaviour_final.pdf 

  8.  https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-are-marijuana-effects 

  9.  https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2021-nsduh-annual-national-report 

  10.  https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308850

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Daniel Umfleet

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Daniel Umfleet is president of the Kindbridge Research Institute and CEO of Kindbridge Behavioral Health since 2020, which spearheads mental health initiatives for organizations like NFLPA PAF & Trust and NASCAR, while actively advocating for improved mental health provisions in state legislatures. With a background in operational strategy and a focus on consumer protection, Daniel's expertise extends from Southampton to Miami, driving impactful change in healthcare systems worldwide.

Daniel is one of WSN's responsible gambling specialists and co-author of our industry-leading Responsible Gambling Center.

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