Sports bettors more likely to binge drink than other gamblers: study

Home » Sports bettors more likely to binge drink than other gamblers: study

Last week, an academic paper co-authored by Joshua Grubbs of the University of New Mexico and Shane Kraus of UNLV confirmed what many have suspected: Those who engage in sports betting are about twice as likely to binge drink than other types of gamblers and people who don’t wager at all.

“This makes sense when you consider the fact that sports gamblers tend to be a little younger and thrill-seeking in nature, and if you think about how sports are consumed in the U.S. — watching the game with friends at a bar or a tailgate party or a friend’s house — alcohol is going to be part of that equation for a lot of people,” Grubbs told Sports Handle in an interview conducted shortly after the paper was published.

The study took a look at the alcohol consumption and gambling habits of 4,300 American adults in 2022 and did not seek to determine whether binge drinking among bettors had increased since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for legal sports wagering to occur outside of Nevada in 2018.

“I am not aware of any other study in the U.S. before PASPA that would address how binge drinking would relate to sports betting,” said Grubbs. “We’ve been following folks for two years now, so the study I just put out is based on what we measured in April of 2022. All of that points to a bigger picture of sports betting and drinking go together. I don’t necessarily think that sports bettors are drinking more now than before PASPA, but there are more sports bettors now.”

Problem gambling consultant Brianne Doura-Schawohl had this to say about the study: “I think the more we look at people who participate in sports betting and their other behaviors, I think it’s likely there’s been an increase in binge drinking. It’s no secret that people with anxiety — sweating out that bet — will sometimes turn to tobacco or alcohol to alleviate that stress. You’re talking about adding risk and anxiety into your life with gambling and you’re inherently inclined to alleviate that in some ways. You tend to get more reckless. Your suppression of the risks you’re engaging in when you’re talking about at-home participation, cashless — a whole amalgamation of things that cause a scenario where it’s no surprise that there’s an increase in the amount of problematic behaviors. 

“It’s no longer about the chasing of the losses in sports betting — it’s chasing highs. You just hit big and you think you’re gonna hit big again, so you go all in. You’re looking to recreate that dopamine rush.”

A question of comorbidities

In further discussing the paper, Doura-Schawohl brought up an interesting point in that the recent COVID pandemic likely contributed to a significant increase in both drinking and the use of mobile betting apps to wager on sports, as people were forced to spend a lot more time at home. She wondered if there might be a way to probe that three-way relationship, but conceded that it could be difficult to construct a reliable research model.

Both Doura-Schawohl and Grubbs also felt that it would be interesting to see how drinking habits change among people who have quit betting on sports due to gambling addiction, with Grubbs saying he plans to conduct such a study.

“There is a little bit of literature already that shows alcohol use interfered with recovery from gambling problems and gambling interferes with recovery from alcohol problems, but there’s not much that’s looked at sports wagering recovery specifically,” he said. “We’re working on a few projects that will hopefully gain access to these samples.”

“I’d also love to see some research done around this,” said Doura-Schawohl. “We talk about how sometimes when an individual is trying to seek recovery from one addiction, it can be replaced with another. Those videos of AA meetings with everyone outside smoking — it’s incredibly hard to find recovery, and I think that it is natural to find other ways to cope. Some people will share very candidly that they may have some recovery from gambling and maybe they’ll replace gambling with alcohol.”

EPIC Global Solutions employs several recovering gambling addicts who are integral to its mission of providing firsthand accounts of the dangers of obsessive wagering. In taking stock of the binging and betting study, Teresa Fiore, EPIC’s vice president of partnerships, sent the following statement to Sports Handle:

“In our society, we have long been aware of issues relating to substance use disorders, but we must not overlook key comorbidities such as gambling addiction, which must be professionally addressed to set someone on a path to recovery, and it is important that organizations like EPIC can help people to become self-aware of signs of addiction in their own lives and seek help as needed.

“Further to this, in our education sessions, we regularly highlight to attendees that various forms of addiction can co-exist, so that those who are conscious that they may have faced other addiction-related issues are aware of the risk of problem gambling occurring in their lives.”

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