PTSD and Gambling

The National Center for PTSD reports that approximately 6% of the U.S. population lives with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). That’s nearly 15.5 million Americans who have developed the psychiatric condition after experiencing a terrifying or extremely distressing event, or after a prolonged traumatic experience.

Examples of events that commonly cause PTSD include (but are not exclusive to) the following:

  • Automobile accident
  • Physical attack/assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Prolonged physical abuse
  • Prolonged emotional abuse
  • Hate crime based upon race, gender, sexual orientation
  • Sudden loss of a loved one
  • Military combat
  • Witnessing a traumatic event (seeing someone brutally attacked, etc.)

People can experience PTSD even after witnessing events from afar. Studies conducted after 9/11 suggest that those who experienced the World Trade Center attacks on television, and continued to receive exposure on TV, have suffered from forms of PTSD.

There are known things to avoid when living with PTSD. Drug and alcohol consumption as coping mechanisms are logically a bad idea, but there are other activities that sufferers must steer clear from – casino gaming and sports betting. While this may be surprising to learn, PTSD and gambling are a dangerous combination that can threaten wellness far beyond financial implications of the latter. If you have PTSD and are wondering about your relationship with gambling, please read ahead.

Why Individuals Who Struggle with PTSD Should Avoid Gambling

Proven Link Between PTSD and Gambling

PTSD and Gambling

A large body of research has shown that PTSD and gambling disorder (GD) are known to cooccur. The New York Council on Problem Gambling reports that among groups of individuals with gambling addictions, up to 34% also suffer from PTSD. While no cause-and-effect relationship has been proven, gambling may provide escape-based coping for the emotions experienced by PTSD sufferers. Instead of picking up a bottle of alcohol or pills, a PTSD sufferer may instead (or in addition to) attempt to lose themselves in casino gaming or sports betting.

It’s also important to consider certain populations that experience PTSD more than others, and what their general relationship with gambling looks like. It should come as no surprise to learn that military veterans experience PTSD at significantly higher rates than the general population. For instance, up to 29% of veterans who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom came home with PTSD. Meanwhile, veterans also have a 3.5 times higher rate of gambling disorder. A study conducted by Kindbridge for the Colorado Military Veterans Project found that gambling behavior was evident in 46% of veterans in treatment for mental/behavioral health disorders.

It is clear that PTSD and gambling are interconnected. But why should this relationship be of particular concern? Please keep reading.

Can Elevate Symptoms of PTSD

PTSD and Gambling

The symptoms of PTSD are numerous, and include the following:

  • Intrusive memories (i.e. reliving the traumatic event)
  • Avoidance of people, places, or things that may trigger memories of traumatic events
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Memory problems (unable to recall moments leading to, during, and after a traumatic event)
  • Social phobia
  • Detachment from friends and family
  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Emotional numbness
  • Difficulty concentrating on tasks
  • Easily startled
  • Feeling “on guard” at all times
  • Insomnia or poor sleeping habits
  • Feelings of guilt and shame
  • Irritability, anger, and aggression
  • Thoughts of suicide and self-harm

It’s an extensive list to say the least, and any combination of the above can threaten wellness to the point that a PTSD sufferer cannot emotionally and mentally function in social, familial, and professional settings. Now consider the fact that a number of these same symptoms are associated with problem gambling, including anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, insomnia, and guilt/shame along with irritability, anger, and depression. Shared symptoms can be certainly be elevated.

If you suffer from PTSD it becomes quite clear that gambling should be taken off the table as a coping mechanism or casual activity. Most concerning, is suicidal ideation which we expand upon below.

Highlighting Suicide Risk for PTSD Sufferers with a Gambling Problem

It’s important to isolate the cooccurring symptom of suicidal ideation and self harm. Studies show that suicide risk is higher in persons with PTSD. One study of veterans found that untreated PTSD symptoms were associated with a 25% higher long-term suicide mortality rate. At the same time, gambling suicide statistics in America are equally alarming, with 28% of problem gamblers reporting suicidal thoughts, and 42% of high risk gamblers indicating that they have wished they were dead on at least one occasion. This data alone suggests that gambling should be off-limits for someone with PTSD.

PTSD and Gambling Cooccur with Other Mental Health Concerns

PTSD and GD cooccur with other mental and behavioral health disorders. These include the following:

  • Anxiety disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) 
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Social phobia
  • Substance abuse disorder

While the conditions/disorders above are not caused by PTSD or problematic gambling behavior, the fact that they often occur along with the two presents a notable obstacle when devising a treatment strategy.

Kindbridge is America’s leading online support platform for problem gambling and cooccurring disorders such as PTSD. Our specialized therapists can provide you (or a loved one) with a customized treatment plan that other “helpline” services are not qualified to offer. If you have mild-to-severe PTSD and are concerned about your relationship with casino gaming or sports betting, reach out via the contacts provided below.

Let’s Talk About Your PTSD and Relationship with Gambling

CALL +1 (877) 426-4258


Email [email protected]

PTSD and Gambling