Gambling Addiction

When gambling becomes an illness

The vast majority of the Austrian population gamble only for fun as a leisure activity, and this form of social gambling is harmless for most people. Nonetheless, the first-ever nationwide study of gambling and player protection in Austria, whose findings were published in 2011 (J. Kalke et al.: Glücksspiel und Spielerschutz in Österreich, Lambertus-Verlag), shows that around 64,000 persons in the 14-65-year-old age group have suffered from a gambling addiction at some point in their lives. The study indicates that 0.43 % of this segment of the population demonstrate problem gambling behavior and 0.66 % are pathological gambling addicts. In 2015, the study was repeated and it was confirmed that around 1.1 % of the adult Austrian population suffer from a gambling problem.

Gambling addiction is an illness that is often suppressed for a long time, yet can be treated. The American Psychiatric Association diagnosed pathological gambling as all illness and included it in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) back in 1980. In 1991, the World Health Organization (WHO) also included pathological gambling in its international classification of mental and behavioral disorders (ICD-10, F.63.0) and defines it as follows:

The disorder consists of frequent, repeated episodes of gambling that dominate the patient's life to the detriment of social, occupational, material, and family values and commitments.

Gambling addicts risk their careers and their jobs, run into huge debts and lie or carry out unlawful acts to obtain money or avoid paying their debts. They describe having an intense, almost uncontrollable compulsion to gamble. They also constantly think about and imagine gambling and the feelings it produces. The thinking about and compulsion to gamble intensifies in stress situations.

The potential risks

In the following video, Dr. Izabela Horodecki, Head of the Spielsuchthilfe Wien gambling addiction support center in Vienna, and Professor Christian Haring, Head of the sucht.hilfe BIN counselling centers in Tyrol, give an overview of the social implications of gambling addiction.

To read the sub-titles in English, please click on the "CC" button on the right of the menu bar.

Gambling addiction frequently begins with an early big win

A winning phase with frequent wins for occasional gambling can lead for some people to an increased sense of self-esteem, an unrealistic level of optimism and dreams of further big wins.

Habitual phase

Gambling then begins to dominate the addict’s thoughts. In this phase, gambling addicts increasingly neglect their friends, hobbies, family and job. Everything centers solely on gambling. Their social surroundings lose evermore significance. They can no longer imagine spending a day or a week without gambling. But they conceal their problems, and work and social conflicts begin to develop.

Loss of control

The next phase is accompanied by an increasing loss of control, i.e. the gamblers can soon no longer decide for themselves if they want to gamble or not. They have to gamble – and they have to do so more and more often, more quickly and for increasingly higher stakes.

They develop withdrawal symptoms (“craving”). They feel ill when they’re not gambling. They experience tension and panic attacks. They can’t sleep. When they start gambling again, it gives them a temporary sense of release. But this is also accompanied by feelings of guilt. These create new tension, which in turn prompts them to gamble again. In the third phase, gamblers have already lost control. Addicts report that it is then no longer about winning and losing, it is only about gambling for as long as possible and for increasingly higher stakes.

Most gambling addicts conceal their addiction, not least because addictive orders are highly stigmatized in modern society. A gambling addiction is not seen as an illness, but as a character weakness. There are a large number of preventive measures that can be taken to prevent this illness from developing, including first and foremost educating and providing people with information about gambling.

Addicts' stories

In the following video, former gambling addicts recount their experiences with this illness.

To read the sub-titles in English, please click on the "CC" button on the right of the menu bar.