It is undisputed that games can be a lot of fun in virtual worlds. The fact that millions of players around the world spend countless hours in front of their screens is generally not a problem. It only becomes problematic when individual players cannot or only with difficulty leave their hobby and playing becomes pathological behavior that can hardly be controlled. Since the equality of so-called “compulsive gambling”, addictions are no longer just substance-related.

Classic gambling addiction is difficult to recognize for outsiders, because you often only notice the problematic behavior of those affected when the effects also manifest themselves in everyday life. In order to be able to initiate countermeasures, however, gambling addiction must first be recognized and recognized. The following article explains what gambling addiction is and how you can recognize pathological gambling. 


Recognizing addiction to gambling: Impulse control disorders

What is particularly treacherous about gambling addiction is that it occurs insidiously and the person concerned initially takes no notice of it. Rather, pathological gaming begins with positive feelings that a player associates with his hobby. Especially when the playing career increasingly begins with winning and playing turns out to be actually worthwhile. With gambling addiction, it is only a matter of time before all limits of caution are exceeded. Pathological gambling, also known as compulsive gambling, is classified under code F63.0 in the ICD-10 and is therefore from a diagnostic point of view an abnormal habit or impulse control disorder. Gambling addicts cannot resist the impulse to have to gamble. You succumb to the urge to place bets or to take part in games of chance - always combined with the desire for big wins. Players do not deal openly with the regular execution of their “hobby” right from the start. Family members and loved ones are often left with the compulsive gaming episodes.

The typical career of a player is roughly mapped out and divided into three sections, which, however, are not linear but also episodic or seizure: Winning phase, Loss phase and  Desperate phase. Each of these phases is characterized by individual thoughts, actions and behaviors.

The initial one Winning phase represents the introduction to gambling addiction and gives the affected person a feeling of the relevance of gambling for their life. Occasional game sessions gain importance through positive emotional connections with profitable game rounds. Those affected develop an unrealistic optimism that mentally overrides even the simplest basic rules. The simple rule of thumb “The bank always wins” is no longer relevant for gambling addicts. Gradually, based on their successes, they succumb to the idea of ​​being able to outsmart the bank with their playful skills. Wishful thoughts are linked to playing, which are supposed to be achieved through the use of ever increasing sums. In the end, a loss of sense of reality manifests itself. 

The winning phase is followed by the Loss phase in which losses are not initially understood for what they are. Lost games and monetary losses are trivialized. Profits, on the other hand, are celebrated as successes. The thoughts of those affected revolve more and more around playing. The thought that losses are outweighed by gains helps those affected get through losing streaks. Losses are hidden; first major losses are concealed by lies. Effects on social relationships can now be seen: family members, relatives and joy are neglected. Game actions are sometimes even carried out during working hours. Resisting gambling becomes increasingly difficult for those addicted to gambling in the losing phase. New funds are raised through loans and indebtedness. As the phases progress, it becomes increasingly difficult but also more urgent fight gambling addiction.

Entry into the Desperate phase runs rather fluidly from the losing phase. Funds raised are gambled away so that debts can no longer be paid. Bad credit leads to illegal fundraising opportunities. Those affected withdraw more and more in the desperate phase, up to a complete social retreat. The personality structure of gambling addicts is changing increasingly: irritability, restlessness and restlessness as well as irritation arise. The social environment suffers noticeably from the compulsive gambling. Those affected sometimes panic and suffer from remorse. In critical cases, hopelessness is reflected in suicidal thoughts.  

“Problematic Gambling”: Effects on Everyday Life

Because pathological gambling expresses itself individually and the actual effects vary, gambling addiction is often only noticeable when restrictions and changes have reached a clear level of intensity. Affected people initially successfully conceal their addiction to more and more extensive gaming sessions. Gambling addicts respond to inquiries from relatives and friends with clever lies. Smaller losses are covered up, but can be uncovered through intensive research in order to identify the gambling addiction as early as possible. Relationships often fail due to pathological gambling behavior - not least because those affected always ask their partners for help when it comes to paying off debts. The financial losses result in existence-threatening consequences: the repayment installments of a home equity loan can suddenly no longer be paid, savings are used up, and fundraising becomes more and more difficult.

Playing serves more and more to reduce negative moods. Fears, depression and negative feelings try to forget those affected by playing. Game actions become a kind of “fortress of everyday life”. More and more time and money is being spent on games in order to be able to maintain states of tension and excitement.  

Gambling addiction is not a luxury problem

Gambling addiction is not a luxury problem that affects few people. Pathological gambling is evident in all social classes and affects men more often than women. Compulsive gambling has been the focus of relevant research series since the 80s. Overall, the research landscape with regard to gambling addiction has improved significantly, not least since the State Treaty on Gaming came into force in 2008. An exact frequency cannot be determined, also due to the high number of unreported cases. However, studies assume 100.000 to around 300.000 people affected in Germany alone.

Gambling Addiction: What It Is And How To Identify It

Differences between pathological gamblers and average gamblers can be seen above all in the number of participants in different types of games as well as in the stakes used. While pathological gamblers play five different games, the average gambler has only two. The difference becomes particularly clear when it comes to the monthly assignments. Gambling addicts spend around EUR 120 per month on gaming sessions, while average gamblers with little or no gambling problems spend around EUR 30. Gambling addiction occurs to about the same extent in casino games, sports betting and gaming machines.

The development of modern media is also focusing on a new field for pathological games: computer game addiction.

Treatment of gambling addiction

It is above all life partners, family members and friends who long for a return to normality even before those affected. In order to combat gambling addiction, the compulsive behavior must first be recognized. Once this step has been taken, multimodal psychotherapeutic interventions are usually used to treat the gambling addiction. Different therapeutic approaches are combined in order to help those affected successfully.

Gambling Addiction: What It Is And How To Identify It

In addition to psychotherapeutic support, stabilization of the financial situation of the pathological gambler is essential. Debt counselors, for example, offer their help to regulate debts. Regular exchange with other gambling addicts helps to cope with everyday problems. Attending a self-help group is an important part of the treatment of gambling addiction. In Germany, an outpatient clinic for those affected by gambling addiction was set up as early as 2009. The Central Institute for Mental Health in Mannheim thus becomes one of the most important contact points for pathological gamblers in Germany.