Problem Gambling and Suicidal Behavior

Problem Gambling and Suicidal Behavior

A Primer for Law Enforcement

Expert from Tony Salvatore 

Law enforcement personnel often see the collateral damage caused by problem gambling, sometimes in themselves or their peers. Yet, they may know less about the most harmful effect—the substantial suicide risk that problem gamblers bear.

Several lists of major suicide risk factors for adults cite past attempts, alcohol abuse, serious mental illness, criminal justice issues, financial struggles, and family conflict, among other variables.1 Problem gambling seldom appears among leading factors but it should.

Out-of-control gambling can precipitate or aggravate other conditions conducive to suicide. Suicidal thoughts and a relatively high incidence of attempts appear prevalent in problem gamblers. This information proves critical to officers who frequently encounter offenders with serious gambling troubles.

Alcohol abuse in particular seems to be a well-known risk factor for suicide and often contributes to increased risk in problem gamblers.19 Excessive use of alcohol enhances impulsivity and disinhibition—characteristic features of problem gambling—and may heighten the probability of suicidal behavior.  However, the quilt and shame that comes with compulsive gambling often keeps individuals from seeking help.

An officer’s arrest for alcohol related crimes (or any other crime) can reflect negatively on the department, and potentially undermine legitimacy and, thus, erode public confidence in that department. Therefore, any attempted to further uncover additional risk factors for alcohol abuse will surely be beneficial to scholars and police administrators.

Second, there is the possibility that police officers with high levels of critical incident stress may turn to gambling as a coping mechanism rather than perpetrating intimate partner violence, for example. Indeed, one study did find a relationship between strain and gambling (Greco and Curci 2017). Whether gambling is an unsanctioned outlet for police officers to release work-related stress, setting limits while gambling is the best route.


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October 29, 2018

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