Is gambling actually the worst addiction

Gambling is as addicting as heroin

Social worker talks about former addiction. Almost sold the in-laws' house.

Calw - Holger Urbainczyk has done a lot in his life that he is anything but proud of. Crimes, lies and exploitation are all part of his biography. The social worker was addicted to gambling for years. He recently spoke about it at a specialist lecture in the Calw Addiction Unit.

When Holger Urbainczyk introduces himself, he often declares that he is 13 years old. Quite understandable - because in 2004 he was, so to speak, reborn. At that time he finally succeeded in renouncing gambling - and thus leaving a path of ruins that almost led him and people he loved into the abyss. Today he explains the dangers of this addiction, which he himself considers to be just as dangerous as addiction to heroin.

Urbainczyk's story begins in Bielefeld, where the social worker was born. When he was six years old, his father left the family, leaving him with his mother and two siblings. About two or three years later - Urbainczyk does not remember that exactly - he finally loses his father: he dies.

The now 50-year-old experiences security throughout his childhood only when playing together with his family. "And the problem was that we always played for money," says the social worker thoughtfully.

Everything he earns goes to machines

At the age of 14 he came into contact with dangerous gambling for the first time. At the time, his brother was working in a restaurant, occasionally giving him money to sink into slot machines. By the time he turns 18, gambling is not a problem - but then he gets access to amusement arcades. And misfortune takes its course. "At that time I went in with five marks, and out again at 50," says Urbainczyk. "I don't remember much from my past, but I remember that very well." Even today he can report where which machines were in that arcade, the noises can still be heard in his ears. The basis for his addiction memory is created.

The social worker was training as a cook at this time. But everything he earns goes into the machines. Most of his money is gone after two or three days. It wasn't until he married his first wife that he managed to forego gambling for the first time - for a full six weeks.

At first creeping, then more and more extreme he begins to feed the machines again. In order not to get caught, he tells his wife that he is with friends or playing soccer, even though all of his free time revolves around playing. A mountain of debt slowly begins to grow; he takes out loans, pays the installments for the loans with other loans. At some point the money won't even be enough to pay for his insurance.

In order to make ends meet, Urbainczyk, who now works for the German Armed Forces, claims that his wife has to pay the bills because he always has to be on duty when the bank is open. Debit cards were not an issue at this time, money was only available at the counter.

But at some point the oven is out: the social worker's wife is financially on the gums, declares that he finally has to go to the bank, she has no more money herself. The pressure is also increasing from other sides. Banks, friends, acquaintances, everyone from whom he has borrowed something, demand it back. Together with a friend he finally plans a robbery on an amusement arcade - unmasked and with a knife.

The robbery goes wrong, the money is in a safe. The two flee without prey. But Urbainczyk still needs money. And so a little later he assaults a snack bar with a knife - while he is wearing a Bundeswehr sweater with his name tag. "The policeman asked: 'Why didn't you leave your identity card right away?'" He says.

However, the 50-year-old is finally caught because of the first attack - because he returns to the same arcade that he wanted to rob to play there. An amateurish behavior that expresses one thing above all: how desperate, disoriented and perplexed Urbainczyk is at this time of his life.

Problem remains untreated

In court, however, he was lucky: the judge only sentenced him to two years' imprisonment, which was suspended. Actually too little for such crimes.

A chance for the social worker to get out of the swamp, at least for a time, into which he has got himself. He stays free for six years, his wife allocates the money for him and has to sign on his checks. The problem: Urbainczyk has only been deprived of the addictive substance, but his addiction remains untreated.

And so at some point he begins to secretly put money aside again. The social worker now knows enough tricks. His addiction makes him almost unscrupulous. Even if he breaks off his perhaps worst act at the last second: trying to sell his in-laws' house while he sends them on a wellness vacation with his wife. To show the house to interested parties during this time. "All I was missing was one signature," reports the 50-year-old. Ultimately, however, he still realizes what he's doing in time. He confesses to his wife what he has done; immediate separation and later divorce are the consequences.

Urbainczyk continues to slide, playing ten machines at the same time from morning to evening. At times he earns up to 4500 euros net per month; however, he often only lives on white bread, jam and cigarettes. "A player who plays pathologically cannot win," he said. His mountain of debt grows to 80,000 euros. In order to get additional money, he speaks specifically to women via internet chats, he eases at least four or five by 1000 euros each.

At some point it is enough for the social worker, he is mentally exhausted. But his family doctor cannot help him and sends him to a psychologist. The latter cannot do anything with the problem either and advises him to be incapacitated by the local court. For Urbainczyk an unbearable idea. His family doctor eventually referred him to a clinic for depression and suicidal thoughts. The last chance, as the 50-year-old says. "It was clear to me: if they send me away too, then I'll hit a pillar in my car."

He remains in treatment for ten weeks. And suddenly, on May 1st, 2004, Urbainczyk stopped playing. "Don't ask me how I did it, I don't know," he explains. The only thing that is certain for him is that during this time he was at a fork in the road: "Live or die. I have decided to live."

The social worker learns to gain a foothold again, withdraws from his environment and moves to Freiburg, and gets by with odd jobs. After an operation, he was offered retraining in 2009: he should study social work. An unbelievable opportunity for the trained chef who only has a secondary school leaving certificate. He actually manages to get a place at university by passing a gifted test. His life has turned.

And yet he is aware of one thing: his addiction can recur. "If I just put one euro in a machine today, it's over," he says. Because gambling is like escaping into another world that is not about money at all. He felt secure.

A total of up to 500,000 euros gambled away

"It was a really great feeling when the money was gone," says the social worker. Only then was the pressure gone. In total, Urbainczyk estimates, he gambled away between 300,000 and 500,000 euros.

Today the 50-year-old is remarried and has a young daughter. But he will probably never be completely healed. He has therefore made a clear regulation with his wife: If he cannot be reached 24 hours at a time, or if money disappears and he cannot explain it, then she must take the child and disappear as quickly and as far away as possible. Because: "When I get into game mode, I destroy everything around me," he says.

Calw

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Around 78 percent of 16 to 65-year-olds in Germany have gambled at least once in their life.

With more than 500,000 people in the Federal Republic of Germany, gambling behavior is in a critical (addictive) range. In addition, according to social worker Holger Urbainczyk, there are an estimated four relatives who on average also suffer from the problems. This affects (at least) 2.5 million people.

20 percent of pathological gamblers attempt suicide, 95 percent have an additional mental disorder.

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