Gambling Addiction

The gambling game has always been a source of fascination for people throughout times and all around the world. Some people are, however, more fascinated than others… As long as there has been gambling, there have been those who simply cannot resist the seductive charms of the betting and play well beyond what is considered healthy, wealthy or wise.

The addictive nature of gambling has existed since the dawn of time. Diagnosed cases of “pathological gambling”, however, have existed only since the beginning of the Christian era. Among Germans, for example, it was often the case that an entire house or estate, or even the personal freedom were used as collateral. High stakes indeed!

In the Middle Ages, many rulers feared for the effects of gambling on their people. It was assumed that without a restriction on gambling, work would be neglected and citizens could no longer fulfill their duties – that is to say, taxes – towards the ruling class.


Beginnings of addiction

In healthy people, games activate the reward center in the brain. After winning a game, neuronal messengers – endorphins – are released and make the player feel triumphant (As an aside, the same neuronal messengers are also emitted when taking mood-stimulating drugs, such as cocaine).

But because not every single bet is won, losses have to be overcome. This strengthens the punter’s behavior. Since the player never knows exactly when he (or she) will make a profit, he is still motivated to play another round even after a loss – in the hopes, he will be successful the next time out.

In the conditioning of animals, such enforcement is used to ingrain long-lasting and particularly resistant behavior. Unfortunately, the same is the case with humans, which is why an addiction, once developed, is not easily treatable. However, those affected should not give up hope, because although the treatment of addiction is lengthy and strenuous, it can have long-term benefits.

Overview: Healthy, problematic and pathological gambling behavior

Categories Duration Stopping Use Social contacts
Healthy playing behaviuor The game duration is limited. The player can stop at any time. Only money is used, which is no problem for the player to lose. Social life is not influenced by playing.
Problematic playing behavior Sometimes time is forgotten when playing. The player doesn’t want to stop the game and only stops after some resistance. Occasionally, more money is spent than originally planned. An initial neglection of social life and duties in favor of the game is apparent.
Pathological Playing Behavior The player usually plays longer than planned or until there is no more money to play. Player plays more and more. Stopping by choice is often not possible. The players spend clearly more than his/her circumstances allow, meaning the money spent in gambling is taken from elsewhere. Social life is neglected. As soon as the possibility to play exists, the game is played instead.

Symptoms – How do I know if I am addicted?

Often, the boundaries between “normal” gambling behavior and “pathological playing” flow into each other and can not be recognised immediately. There are, however, some symptoms which can indicate signs of gambling addiction.

Symptoms include the compulsion to have to play again and again and the denial of addiction to others. In many cases, the personal environment is neglected, and strong mood fluctuations are not uncommon.

To deal with the urge to gamble, the person concerned invests a lot of money to get the necessary amount to play, sometimes these funds are found by illegal means. Financial difficulties are a common feature of gambling addiction.

Checklist: These are the symptoms of playing addiction

  • Frequent playing
  • Neglecting of social contacts in favor of gambling
  • Intensive mental work invested (tactics, planning the “playtime”, etc.)
  • Inability to stop playing
  • Attempt to compensate for the losses caused by further play
  • Concealment or trivialisation of one’s own playing behavior
  • Financial difficulties
  • Indebtedness
  • Inadvisable or illegal attempts to raise money
  • Change of personality (restlessness, irritation, mood swings)
  • Development of concomitant mental illness (depression, suicidal thoughts, other addictions (alcohol, drugs, etc.)
  • The symptoms listed in the list indicate an addictive playing behavior. Even in a clear case of addiction, not necessarily all the criteria listed above need to be met to set alarm bells ringing

The Causes – Individual Differences

When it comes to the causes of playing addiction, it is difficult to find a root that can be applied to all the cases. Rather, it is different from person to person. Frequently, an addiction develops as an escape from negative feelings such as anxiety, guilt or depression.

These may have their background in childhood or adolescence (for example, early loss of a parent, experiences of violence, or social exclusion) or a life crisis in as an adult (e.g., lack of professional and personal perspective, conflict situations or illness).

Three Phases of Addiction

Gambling addiction can be classified into three phases: the winning phase, the losing phase, and the desperation phase. (It should be noted that the path to addiction does not follow these phases in every patient.)

  1. Profit phase

The bettor tries gambling for the first time. He/she celebrates those successes that strengthen his self-confidence. Thus the visits to the casino/online betting site become more frequent. The player builds a connection to the scene and is willing to invest larger amounts of money into play. This develops an unrealistic optimism as well as wishful thoughts and the use of ever higher amounts.

  1. Loss phase

Gambling is becoming a frequent activity. Risk-taking increases. With this comes the unavoidable the losses that all gamblers experience. Now the gambler that they must “catch up” and a vicious circle arises. Instead of the hoped-for gains, the losses accumulate, losses that the player often trivialises. In order to be able to continue to play, debts are absorbed. Family and friends may step into the story. Unlike in the third phase of the addiction, the gambler can still step away from betting.

  1. Desperation phase

In this third stage, the addict loses control of his playing behavior. It is impossible for him to set a time or money limit. The available amount of money will now be gambled, and profits immediately reinvested in the game. In order to justify absences and unpunctuality, lies will often be created. In order to obtain the money, the person concerned may consider criminal acts.

After high losses or failed attempts to stop of playing, the addicts can experience guilt, which can develop into suicidal thoughts. The complete retreat from society and the complete alienation towards friends and family are a typical manifestation of this phase.

The phase model is confirmed – An Addict’s Story

The fact that the path to addiction can be summarised by these three phases is illustrated in the following excerpts from the experience of gamblers in their own words…

A woman who needed several years to admit her addicted behaviuor describes how it all began: “Everything began, as usual, quite harmlessly. A drink in my beloved bar and five Euros in the slot machine… Maybe I’m lucky! Unfortunately, I was.

In the beginning, everything was fun and I often won, and if not – I just stopped. More and more I put my money into these boxes – just for fun. I didn’t realise how short the gaps in between my playing had become and how large the sums I invested became.”

She wrote the following about the times when the addiction for gambling determined her life: “Without gambling, nothing felt right. In my head, everything was about playing. Every minute I could not play frustrated me.

Day and night I thought only of one thing: Playing! In the morning, I thought about where I could get money to play, at noon I had the same problem because I had already lost all the money in the morning. Using lies or excuses I could always somehow find the financial resources. I lost many friends during this time. I had no time for anybody else. I let my family down. ”

This tragic example shows how addiction can play out: after a harmless punt, gambling game becomes a regular activity before it enters up in the addiction phase and relegates everything else in life to the background.

Treatment and Support

If a person gets to the point of seeking professional help, the first step of any treatment is to identify how and when the gambler plays. The next step is devoted to the origin of the addiction – for example, family difficulties, professional problems, depression – and tries to help the addict get them under control.

In addition, the addict learns coping strategies, which should help them strengthen his/her self-control. The correct day-to-day handling of financial resources is also addressed.

In addition to individual interviews, group sessions are often also mandatory during therapy. Alongside other patients, the affected individuals analyse the behavioral patterns underlying their gambling habits and develop goal-oriented changes.

Following treatment, it is recommended that patients continue to work on their addiction problems with a support group.

How therapy works

In the treatment of gambling addiction, the addict has to learn how to deal with money again. Since the relation to the value of money has often been complicated as a result of gambling, addicts often have to get to know the value of money again. Money management is often highlighted by addicts having to operate on a relatively tight budget that just-about covers their everyday expenses.

In order to keep the risk of recurrence as low as possible, it is often necessary to reverse old habits. A trip to the casino/visit to the online site or contact with old “colleagues” often triggers addictive behavior.

Gambling is used by addicts to generate feelings of happiness. Therefore, an important part of the therapy is to stimulate this feeling of happiness and to develop other behaviors that release positive messengers in the brain. For example, sport – playing, not betting on! – is a great way to experience feelings of happiness and success.

An addiction is never considered completely cured, and there is always a certain risk of relapse for players that suffer from any addiction. The aim of therapy is therefore to recognise this danger and to develop contingency plans that prevent the reversion to bad habits.

Patients who are affected by gambling addiction should keep away from the betting even after successful therapy. Similar to a “dry” alcoholic, occasional “consumption” of their chosen “drug” without slipping back into the addiction is only possible for a very small minority.


Counseling services – help on the spot

For those who are uncertain about their gaming habits possible addiction, there are many places where you can seek assistance. One of these addresses is the Anonymous Player Group, a community which is committed to the topic of gambling addiction. They advise, organise support groups and offer helpful literature on the subject.

In many UK cities, there is also a specialist center for addiction prevention and care. Here, those affected can consult, find information on treatment options or find a support group. The UK  national organisation for gambling problem provides a great source of help for those struggling with their addiction.

GamCare Contact
Telephone 020 7801 7000
Address GamCare, 2nd Floor, 7-11 St John’s Hill, London, SW11 1TR

Gambling addiction is often not recognised as an illness

Unfortunately, gamblers often encounter many prejudices that make it more difficult for them to deal with their illness. A common prejudice is that the person concerned simply has too little self-discipline. “Pull yourself together and just stop playing!” is a typical, but unhelpful, reaction.

Just like other addictions, the patient is caught up in a hard-to-break cycle. In order to defeat the addiction, the addict usually needs professional help. Therefore, those affected should be taken seriously when they report their disease.

Victims often admit their addiction very late. Statements like “I can stop at any time” are common here. Due to the frequent social stigmatisation, it is more difficult to own up to the illness of gambling addiction.

State Control of Gambling

In Germany, the state does not simply look on idly when it comes to preventing the advent of gambling addiction. Since 2008 there has been a State Treaty of Gambling, which was signed by the federal states and allows gambling to be restricted to operators under strict conditions. Although the regulations differ a little in the local states because of the federal system, they still agree on the most important points.

The justification of the state supervision of gambling is based on the protection of the player and also to fight gambling addiction. Many bookmakers also always point to the dangers of playing addiction. On the websites of well-known casinos, bookmakers or lotteries you can find hints about addiction, self-tests and consultation suggestions.

Block Yourself!

Those who are worried about addiction can protect themselves by voluntarily excluding themselves from gambling. In state casinos, this exclusion may be made at the request of the player and shall be valid for at least one year.

Thereafter, it may be canceled by a written application from the player. Almost all online casinos offer the same kind of self-blocking. As a rule, there is usually a section on “Responsible Gaming” on the most online betting companies’ websites where the player can set a deposit limit or be completely blocked from playing.

In private casinos, there is not always the possibility to block themselves. In this case, the player can be granted a ban on the building, but the operators are not obligated to do adhere to such a ban. The operators may, at their own judgment, pronounce house bans but don’t have to comply with the wish of the players.

Possibilities of self-blocking in casinos, gambling houses, and online casinos:

Casino Gambling Houses Online Casino
Setting up a self-blocking system is possible. If a player is admitted to a casino despite a valid block, he is to be compensated for any losses. It is not possible to set up a guaranteed self-blocking requirement in all German local states. In the case of legal games in Germany, self-blocking is possible and obligatory for the provider.

Gambling addicts make for well-paying customers…

Gambling providers have a high responsibility towards their customers. Addiction should be seen as a serious problem that can lead to big problems. Nevertheless, addicts are welcome customers for some operators.

Even though only a small percentage of all players show a strong addictive behavior, it is exactly these players who generate a particularly high turnover and are thus particularly important customers for the operators of gambling halls and (online) casinos.

From this perspective, the refusal of a house ban by a gambling room operator (as described above) can be understood – even if one might disapprove of such practices. However, because of state requirements for the protection of the players, every gambling provider must point out the dangers associated with betting and fulfill the requirements for the protection of the customer.

Online gambling: a special danger

With the legalisation of the online casinos, it became possible to gamble at any time of the day or night. The registration process to become a member of an online bookmaking site can be done with a few clicks and the customer can start playing right away.

An almost limitless selection of different online casinos and games can provide hours of entertainment. This can present a serious problem for many gamblers. Due to the constant availability of gambling, bettors do not even have to leave the house to pursue their addiction.

The problems of addiction, such as social isolation, can be further intensified by gaming on the internet. The opportunity for the outsider to recognise day-to-day behavioural problems and try to help the person affected is significantly reduced due to the solitary and anonymous nature of online gambling.

The fact that the player who suffers from gambling addiction has a serious problem can, therefore, remain unrecognised for a long time and is usually noticed by friends or family only when the addiction is already very pronounced and financial problems have arisen.

Even if the player has recognised his problem and wants to do something about it, this is not easy because of all the myriad online casinos available around the clock. The self-blocking system is helpful in the fight against one’s own addiction but does not provide a secure protection in case of a relapse.

Anyone determined to play will find a way to do it. In the context of effective therapy, therefore, behavior must be learned – or relearned –  in order to prevent a relapse.

In order to protect the players, online casinos must adhere to strict conditions. For example, a casino’s website must provide a clear indication of the dangers of gambling. Links to advice for gamblers are also available on the websites of most casinos.

poker chips

High-risk men

The Federal Center for Health Studies in Germany offers figures on gambling addiction in German society.

The results of the last study show that although fewer people participate in gambling, the number of pathological players remains constant. Some 1,3% of men and 0.3% of women are considered pathological gamblers. The numbers also show that 1.2% of men and 0.3% of women are also confronted with a ‘problematic game behavior’ – the precursor to addiction.

A total of about 438,000 people can be classified into these two states. The group with the highest risk are young men between 18 and 20 years, about 9% of whom are either addicted or have problems with gambling. Influencing factors include unemployment and a migrant background.

Machine games, sports betting and online casinos are where problem gamblers most often spend their money. Contrary to the generally declining participation in gambling, the number of those who play at game machines is increasing.

Play safely

  • Only use money that you don’t need for other expenses. The money used should be regarded as a budget for the hobby of “playing” and not as an investment with which a profit must be achieved.
  • Set a financial limit: plan how much money you want to bet per day, week or month and stick to your guns!
  • Set a time limit: do not spend more time playing than originally planned, especially if this means you neglect other activities.
  • Plan breaks: regularly break off from the game regularly to keep perspective.
  • Keep an eye on the checklists of addiction counseling centers to monitor whether you are displaying pathological game behavior.

When relatives are affected

Addicts often admit their addiction very late in their addiction. However, if a friend or relative notices a change in the person concerned, they should openly address it – even at the risk of the patient withdrawing or becoming annoyed.

The numerous counseling centers for addiction can and should be used not only by the addicts themselves but also by their relatives.

Pathological gamblers are sooner or later in financial difficulties because of their illness. These difficulties should not be indulged by relatives because loans or the settlement of existing debts by friends or relatives make the situation more complicated and only prolong the problem.

A gambler that suffers from addiction cannot be forced to receive help. The desire for therapy and help must come from the affected person himself.

A barring order from a casino can be requested not only by the person concerned but also by other persons. Firstly, an immediate 14-day provisional suspension is given and the blocked person is given the opportunity to comment on the situation. After that, the lock is either canceled or converted into a normal lock with a runtime of at least one year.

However, the blocking requested by others solves the problem only in a very limited framework, because, as already mentioned, the possibilities for playing are almost unlimited – and in many gambling houses, for example, it is not possible to use the blocking option.

It is therefore only possible to combat the playing addiction if the person himself wants it. However, support from friends and family helps to improve the chances of successful therapy.

A Serious Problem

Gambling addiction does not only affect those who succumb to it but family, friends, and society in general. Gambling is fun and exciting but gambling addiction is a serious problem and should be treated as such.

Sources (Enlightenment, Help, Help)

AG Spielucht – Charité Berlin (self-evaluation)

Federal Center for Health Education (Enlightenment, Counseling, Help) (telephone and online consultation, chat consultation, self-test)

University of Hohenheim – Research Center Gambling (Research)

Center for Gambling Research – University of Vienna (Research)

Check your game (advice and self-test) (self-help groups)

Http:// (education, advice, help)
Https:// (Advice and self-test)
Https:// (Advice and self-test)