UK Military Vets Seven Times as Likely to Suffer Gambling Disorders as Civilians

Posted on: October 20, 2021, 06:34h. 

Last updated on: October 20, 2021, 08:53h.

British military veterans have a significantly higher risk of developing gambling problems in comparison with the general population, according to new research.

Military gambling
The British Army was mobilized last year to help the pandemic fight (pictured). Among ex-members of the UK armed forces who gambled, 43 percent had a gambling disorder, according to the study. (Image: Sky News)

The UK Armed Forces Veterans’ Health and Gambling Study is the first UK-wide survey of gambling participation among ex-service members. Published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal, its findings can be alarming to some.

The report concludes that veterans are almost seven times more likely to be problem gamblers than non-veterans.

Researchers surveyed a sample of 1,037 ex-servicemen and women who said they gambled. This was compared with a sample of 2,185 non-veterans who also gambled, matching the two groups for age and sex.

In the veterans’ group, 43 percent were problem gamblers, according to the Problem Gambling Severity Index, in comparison with just 6.5 in the other group.

Cost of Addiction

While the study is observational and therefore can’t establish cause, researchers suggest the veterans’ gambling problems are likely related to their experience in the military. The study suggested such service is “known to be associated with greater physical and mental health needs.”

They conclude there is a “good economic case” for screening military veterans for signs of problem gambling. This is not currently a part of routine post-deployment mental health assessments in the UK.

According to the study, compared with non-veterans, ex-military reported higher use of health care services, which are generally free at the point of consumption in the UK. This included visits to GPs, hospital stays, and contact with social workers.

They also claimed more welfare benefits, lost more working hours, amassed larger debts, and had more brushes with law enforcement. And they used more of gambling support and substance and alcohol misuse treatment services.

The costs of routine post deployment and end-of-service screening are relatively low. However, while costs may increase for those identified with mental health conditions, there is an obvious trade-off in the costs saved from future health care resource use, as well as criminal justice contact and accrued debt,” the report concluded.

Findings Echo US Studies

The research echoes similar studies on current and ex-US servicemen and women. Research published last year by the University of Nevada found that 10 percent of military veterans suffered from problem gambling, compared with 2.5 percent in the general population.

This “often co-occurred with trauma-related conditions, substance use, and suicidality,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, the National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that as many as 56,000 active-duty US troops meet the criteria for gambling disorder. 

In 2018, the National Defense Authorization Act mandated screening for problem gambling into routine Defense Department (DOD) health checks.

But the DOD has been criticized for operating more than 3,000 slot machines on overseas US military bases that rake in $100 million per year. This despite slots being banned at domestic bases since 1951.