Fuelling addiction: How the cost of living crisis increases the odds of problem gambling


Addiction loves a crisis. It is a huge opportunity for addiction to tighten its grip on sufferers, lure new victims into its web and derail others’ recoveries. Gambling addiction has been an ever-growing issue in the UK for years, fuelled by the availability of online gambling and the normalisation of betting culture and there are now an estimated 600,000 problem gamblers in the UK. During times of economic hardship, gambling addiction can wreak havoc on people’s lives, leaving them in huge debt and costing them their homes, jobs and families.

In this four-part series, we will be covering the current financial crisis and its impact on addiction. Here, we will explore the connection between current events and an increase in gambling, outlining some ways that you or a loved one can seek support if you are struggling with the temptation to gamble.

Why do difficult financial times lead to increased gambling?

For some, it can be a way to escape from the stress and worry of their daily work and money problems while others may see it as a way to win enough money to pay off their debts or cover their ever-rising monthly bills (one survey by GambleAware found that 24% of female gamblers between 14-49 said they planned to increase their gambling to help pay for the rising costs of living.)

Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety can also lead to people taking up gambling as a way to soothe their symptoms or at least distract themselves for a while. As financial worries cause new mental health issues and exacerbate existing ones, more and more people have started hitting online casinos or stopping off at the bookies on the way home from work as a form of relief or self-medication.

But will all these new gamblers become addicted?

It is important to understand that gambling addiction is a multi-faceted condition. There are various factors which contribute to whether a person becomes addicted to gambling or not including mental health, a family history of gambling addiction and different personality traits. To avoid gambling addiction, it is always important that underlying causes like these are addressed before it is too late.

However, if we look more closely at some of the above reasons why people may have started gambling during the cost of living crisis and consider them in the context of current government action, we can get a better understanding of why there is a major risk that these underlying causes won’t be addressed and will lead to many new gambling addictions developing.


Gambling to escape the stress of money issues

When it comes to personal, national and global finances, there is nothing worse than uncertainty. In the last three months, the UK has seen multiple Chancellors, three Prime Ministers, tax cuts, tax rises, tax U-turns, inflation hikes, interest rate rises and gloomy economic forecasts that are unlikely to reassure many people’s concerns (indeed, the recent collapse of the Pound after the former chancellor’s “mini-budget” announcement shows that international markets are certainly not assured of the UK’s economic stability.)

For all those people who are gambling as a way to forget about these stresses for a while, this continued uncertainty is only going to make it harder for them to control their gambling. The more they worry about their personal finances, the more likely they may be to visit the bookies or spend an evening playing online poker to distract themselves temporarily and this can eventually lead to tolerance, dependence and ultimately, gambling addiction.

Gambling to pay for rising household and energy bills

The last couple of months have not been great for This Morning’s Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Pilloried for seemingly jumping the queue to view the Queen’s coffin, the once-beloved morning duo are now the targets of public fury.

Before this scandal occurred, however, there was already a degree of uproar when This Morning held a phone-in Spin-to-Win contest where successful members of the public could have their monthly energy bills paid for. This bizarre, Orwellian aspect of the contest was dropped the following week but it was a stark example of how serious an issue the price of energy has become for households across the UK.

For those women identified by GambleAware who have started gambling to meet these extra prices, however, there has been little reassurance. Earlier this month, it was announced that UK inflation had hit a 40-year high of over 10% with the cost of food and other necessary items spiralling out of control and then on November 3rd came the announcement of the biggest rise to interest rates since 1989.

The cost of various food items seems to be rising to reflect our current financial crisis. For example, recent projections estimate that household essentials like Lurpak butter have increased by 25.8% compared to October 2021. In light of these rising costs, people may find it more worthwhile to spend that money on lottery tickets or scratch cards, fuelling their gambling habits and ultimately increasing their chances of addiction.


Gambling due to mental health issues

Gambling addiction and mental health issues go hand-in-hand. Addiction can be both a cause and symptom of mental health disorders and a disorder in its own right. And yet, for those who gamble as a way to self-medicate mental illnesses exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, there appears to be little light at the end of the tunnel.

Mental health budgets have been described by Vicki Nash, the Associate Director of Policy, Campaigns and Public Affairs at mental health charity, Mind, as being at “breaking point”. Added to years and years of government funding cuts to addiction treatment and recovery, which Dame Carol Black condemned as having left services “on their knees”, many individuals are, understandably, starting to fear for their own mental health. They may resort to placing mobile bets that they can’t afford or gambling large amounts of money on the upcoming world cup because it provides them with temporary relief from their symptoms in lieu of professional support.


How do I abstain from gambling during these uncertain times?

During unprecedented times such as these, it is important we remind ourselves that gambling addiction is nothing to be ashamed of; it is a condition that affects people from all walks of life. In fact, prominent campaigners like the ex-England footballer and recovering gambling addict Paul Merson have spoken out across TV and the media about the dangers of gambling addiction. One documentary hosted by Merson tells the stories of those who had been driven to suicide by the feelings of helplessness and desperation this awful condition can cause (one study by Public Health England estimated there were 409 gambling addiction-related suicides in the UK in 2021.)

In light of these sobering statistics, we must remain mindful of the realities of gambling addiction, keeping track of our finances and accessing the appropriate support channels if our gambling habits are becoming out of control.

If you are feeling alone in these times, when so many people are feeling abandoned by the government and left alone to struggle, it is more important than ever to look out for yourself and the people you know. Have you noticed that you or a loved one is starting to gamble more often? Have you been dealing with money problems, feeling more downcast or stressed than usual? If so, sit down and ask yourself if it is time to connect with others about how you are feeling.

You may find that all you really needed was someone to talk to, but if you feel that you need to look to some other resources to channel your emotions, try instead to:

  • Sign up for calming activities like meditation or yoga to relax your mind and ease your worries.
  • Put your money into essential expenses (such as mortgage payments or credit card bills) as soon as you get paid.
  • Use the time you would otherwise spend gambling participating in activities that you really enjoy.
  • Keep a note of any events that triggered your gambling, exercising caution to avoid them in future.
  • Detach yourself from individuals in your life that enable your gambling habits.

If you feel that you are still struggling to control your gambling, centres like UKAT offer vital support for those with gambling addiction (and other addictions) at a time when the NHS is struggling. We understand the pressure that people are under in these uncertain times and we are always on hand to help if you require any more specialised support.


The third blog in this series will explore the impact the cost of living has on shopping addiction.