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Gambling Habits Increased During Lockdown, Study Finds

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Key Takeaways

  • Among youth in the UK, gambling online increased during the lockdown for regular gamblers.
  • Previous gambling habits, a record of financial challenges before the pandemic, and heavy alcohol use were associated with regular gambling during the lockdown.

A recently published study in the Journal of Gambling Studies found that heavy regular alcohol use, a history of gambling at the age of 24, and financial challenges prior to the pandemic were linked to regular gambling during COVID-19 lockdowns.

Especially since the pandemic has shifted many organizations to explore and maintain more remote work arrangements, young adults may be at greater risk of turning to online gambling as a recreational activity.

As businesses try to cut down on the costs of office space, this research highlights the need for a public health response to address this intersection of regular gambling, heavy alcohol use, and financial challenges.

Understanding the Research

Through the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a three-generation cohort in England provided a research sample to collect repeat data online during the lockdown.

For this study, ALSPAC participants were asked to complete questionnaires in May of 2020, including questions regarding gambling, mental health, and alcohol use, that had been also asked three years ago.

Despite its large sample size, it was a self-selected, well-educated sub-group, which is a limitation. It is also worth noting that about 71% of respondents were women, while men are more likely to regularly engage in gambling, so the reality of gambling in lockdown is likely to be underestimated.

Gambling and Gaming Are Not the Same Thing

The lead author for this study, Alan Emond, MA, MD, MBBChir(Cantab), FRCP, FRCPCH, says, "Although gambling activity decreased overall during the lockdown in England because of limitation of activities, gambling online increased—especially those who gambled regularly (at least weekly)."

Emond notes that young people are increasingly working from home, where online gambling is much more accessible than it is in the workplace, so those who are regular gamblers may be particularly vulnerable to increasing their gambling online and potentially getting into debt.

Alan Emond, MA, MD, MBBChir(Cantab), FRCP, FRCPCH

Some gamble for escape because they are depressed, whilst others become depressed because of their losses and becoming socially isolated.

— Alan Emond, MA, MD, MBBChir(Cantab), FRCP, FRCPCH

Emond is concerned that boundaries between gaming and gambling are becoming more blurred, and the world of gaming is less regulated, and betting on e-sports is increasing dramatically, especially among younger ages.

Emond says, "The trend to online gambling is seen all over the world, and young people are now able to bet on sports matches (including e-sports) in different countries. The relationship with alcohol is also widely reported, and there appears to be a complex relationship with mental health in young people—some gamble for escape because they are depressed, whilst others become depressed because of their losses and becoming socially isolated."

How Gambling May Impact Mental Health

Leela R. Magavi, MD, says, "Interestingly, the study did not find any association between mental wellness and gambling frequency; however, heavy alcohol consumption was associated with frequent gambling. Individuals who gambled more during the quarantine were more likely to have had experienced monetary concerns prior to the pandemic."

Leela R. Magavi, MD

Gambling can turn into a maladaptive coping skill, which individuals turn to when they are apathetic, depressed, or anxious.

— Leela R. Magavi, MD

Although this study did not display a specific link between mental wellness and gambling, Magavi says that other research studies have postulated such a correlation, and notes that individuals with depression are more likely to engage in gambling, based on her clinical practice.

Magavi says, "Questionnaires and scales were utilized in this study; however, clinical assessment remains the most beneficial in understanding individuals’ mental state, as individuals may have minimized their mood and anxiety symptoms. Gambling can turn into a maladaptive coping skill, which individuals turn to when they are apathetic, depressed, or anxious; they may rely upon gambling to escape painful sentiments."

What This Means For You

As this study indicates, increases in online gambling during the lockdown were associated with a history of regular gambling and financial challenges before the pandemic and heavy regular alcohol use. Since 70% of respondents were women while men tend to report more gambling, this reality is likely to be worse.

Given that individuals with depression are more likely to engage in gambling, this study's association of increases in online gambling activities with financial challenges and heavy regular alcohol use requires a more targeted public health response to support young recreational gamblers.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Emond A, Nairn A, Collard S, Hollén L. Gambling by young adults in the UK during COVID-19 lockdown. J Gambl Stud. 2021:1-13. doi:10.1007/s10899-021-10029-y