Behavioural Addiction

Behavioural addictions, also known as ‘non-substance addictions’, are characterised by a person’s inability to control an activity

Compulsive gambling

Behavioural addictions are behaviours in which no substance is involved. Addiction occurs when these activities are beyond the person’s control and harm their health, personal relationships, work, etc. – Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Two types of behavioural addictions are officially considered as a disease: gambling addiction and video game addiction[1]. Other behavioural disorders are the subject of research to better understand their impact and addictive potential. These include, for example, food and sexual addictions, compulsive shopping and addiction to the internet and smartphones.

It should be noted that ‘non-substance’ compulsive behaviours that are not officially recognised can still cause significant suffering and can be treated like other addictive disorders.

There are many similarities between substance addictions and behavioural addictions. Both types of behaviour are triggered by an emotional need to perform a certain activity or consume a certain substance. Both behaviours result in the production of feel-good chemicals in the brain.

Over time, however, people can become addicted to this behaviour or to the alcohol or drugs they use. And when this dependence is accompanied by negative consequences for the individual – in terms of health, finances, social relationships, work, etc., thus leading to addiction.

Compulsive gambling

Compulsive gambling is the inappropriate, repeated and persistent use of gambling, resulting in disruption of social, family or work activities and/or clinically significant suffering.

It should be noted that most people who regularly gamble on sports bets or go to casinos do not have any particular problem. Their gambling is controlled and, when they lose money, they do not feel the need to gamble again to compensate for their losses. In their case, gambling remains a relatively harmless leisure practice.

The behaviour of the compulsive gambler is quite different. Their trajectory consists of three successive phases:

  • The winning phase – the compulsive gambler has always started by winning, sometimes a large sum – this winning has been accompanied by an intense feeling of well-being. Euphoric, the compulsive gambler feels compelled to gamble again.
  • The losing phase – invariably, the gambler will lose, but instead of seeing the losses as inevitable, he or she will experience them as an affront. These losses drive him to gamble again to win back what he has lost. This is when difficulties arise
  • The despair phase – losses become increasingly important. In despair, the problem gambler loses all control and, despite increasing problems, continues to gamble.

How to recognize compulsive gambling?


The following questions[2] can help you to analyse your (or a loved one’s) gambling behaviour to see if you are likely to suffer from an addictive disorder. This questionnaire is for information purposes only. If you answer “yes” to 4 or more criteria, we advise you to refer yourself or your loved one to a professional for further assessment.


  • Do you need to gamble increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement?
  • Do you feel irritable or nervous when you try to cut down or stop gambling?
  • Have you ever tried to control, cut down or stop gambling without success?
  • Do you often feel obsessed with gambling (remembering past experiences, waiting for the next experience, getting money to gamble, etc.)?
  • Do you often gamble when you feel unhappy and distressed (e.g. when you feel powerless, guilty, depressed or anxious)?
  • After losing at gambling, do you often gamble again to make up for your losses?
    Do you ever lie to hide the true extent of your gambling?
  • Have you ever jeopardised or even lost an important relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of gambling?
  • Do you rely on others to provide you with money or get you out of desperate financial situations because of your gambling?

Video games

It is estimated that 2-3% of Europeans are at risk of video game addiction, meaning that they lose control over their gaming, whether online or offline. For these people, gaming becomes the main focus of attention, while other daily activities are abandoned or neglected. Over time, this has a negative impact on social and family relationships, as well as on employment and study opportunities.

Even among video game enthusiasts, not all gamers suffer from addiction. However, gamers should monitor the amount of time they spend playing and be aware of the impact this has on:

  • Their daily activities (social, professional, school, job search, etc.).
  • Their physical and mental health (dry eyes, overweight, sleep problems, loss of self-confidence, psychological discomfort, anxiety and depression, etc.).
  • Their social relationships (withdrawal, isolation, loss of meaningful relationships, etc.).

How to regognize video game addiction?


The following questions[3] can help you analyse your video game playing (or that of someone close to you) to see if you are susceptible to an addictive disorder. This questionnaire is only intended to inform you. If you answer “yes” to 5 or more criteria, we recommend that you or your loved one see a professional for a more thorough assessment.


  • Do you often feel obsessed with video games (remembering past experiences, waiting for the next experience, etc.)?
  • Do you feel the need to play more to achieve the desired state of excitement?
  • Have you ever tried to control, reduce or stop playing video games without success?
  • Have you lost interest in any of the activities you used to enjoy?
  • Do you feel unable to control your love of video games despite the obvious problems it causes you?
    Have you ever lied to your loved ones about the time you spend playing?
  • Do you ever play to relieve feelings of guilt, despair, anxiety, depression or any other unpleasant emotions?
  • Do you continue to gamble despite the risk of losing your job or damaging important personal relationships?
  • Do you feel angry, anxious, sad, irritable or in any other way when you cannot play?

[1] Currently, Internet gaming disorder is described in section 3 of the DSM, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM 5) as a condition that requires further clinical investigation before being included in the main body of the document as a formally diagnosable disorder. Instead, the disorder has been formally included in the 11th revision of the WHO International Classification of Diseases (gaming disorder) or ICD-11.

[2] Questionnaire adapted from DSM 5, which refers to gaming disorder if the person meets at least 4 criteria in a 12-month period (4-5 criteria: mild disorder; 6-7 criteria: moderate disorder; 8-9 criteria: severe disorder).

[3] Questionnaire adapted from DSM 5, indicating that 5 or more criteria are required for a possible diagnosis of video game use disorder.