Poker Players Taking Risks with Drugs

Poker players often sit at the table for hours at a time, working to concentrate on their game. Players may fight to stay awake, and maintaining focus to stay in the game can be a difficult challenge.

A study presented by Nova Southeastern University at a recent national conference disclosed that 80 percent of poker players admitted to using drugs or other substances to keep their poker playing in competitive form. Substances used by the players include drugs like marijuana and Valium, and caffeine and energy drinks to stay awake.

Lead author of the study, Kevin Clauson, PharmD., an associate professor at NSU’s college of Pharmacy, explained that poker players choose to use the drugs or other substances to stay awake at the table longer and to focus on the game. The substances provide stamina to the players for a game that could last for hours.

The authors of the study believe that the poker players are putting themselves at great risk because of the short-term and long-term side effects of the substances. Some of the substances used are extremely addictive and are associated with painful withdrawal symptoms and a high rate of relapse.

The NSU research team began collecting information by interviewing poker players in Las Vegas for the World Series of Poker. They then conducted online surveys with players from around the globe, including North America, Europe and Asia. Most of the feedback they received was from the U.S. and Canada.

Participants ranged from professional poker players to semi-pro, amateur and recreational players. Despite varying levels of involvement, almost all poker play involves some investment of cash. Generally, the players surveyed favored Texas Hold ‘Em, and participated in playing poker both in person and online. The majority of the participants in the study were male and in their mid-20s.

The study’s results showed that almost three-quarters (73 percent) of participants reported using drugs and/or other substances to improve their focus and concentration. Other respondents reported using drugs or other substances to relieve anxiety, improve alertness or improve memory function.

The authors of the study indicate that the results suggest a widespread problem among poker players, with drug use or other substance use prevalent in efforts to improve game performance. There may be a need for education and prevention efforts, along with possible time/length regulations connected with poker play to discourage the use of drugs or other substances to enhance focus and concentration.