Are you a compulsive gambler?

Pathological Gambling

Stages of Gambling

Teens and Gambling

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Pathological and even compulsive gambling are often compared to substance abuse and addiction. There are many factors that are directly comparable. However, in one area gambling problems are often worse: Because those who have this illness often steal thousands of dollars to feed their habit, even if they are finally "cured," they may still have ruined their lives with debt greater than they can repay in a lifetime.

Stanley R. Bier, Ph.D.
South Office: 8301 State Line Road Suite 116 Kansas City, Mo. 64114 • Phone 816-361-7400 and Fax 816-361-8180
North Office: 2029 Buchanan North Kansas City Mo. 64116 • Phone 816-474-7322 and Fax 816-474-6202

© Stanley R. Bier, Ph.D. •

Stages of Problem Gambling

Many experts believe that problem gamblers go through progressive stages as they fall into the grip of compulsive gambling. Not all gamblers go through all the stages, nor do they necessarily progress in any particular order. They may move through the stages at different rates. Action gamblers, for example, may go through the stages over 10 to 30 years, while escape gamblers might go through all the stages in a matter of weeks.

Below are brief descriptions of these stages. You may already be familiar with them, but perhaps not with their financial manifestations.

Winning Stage

In what's called the winning stage, an individual discovers that gambling is exciting, social, and perhaps sees it as a way to escape the stress of work, family, or loneliness. This excitement may be enhanced by a few wins. At this stage, the gambler still has money and still feels in control. Following wins, the gambler may shower family, loved ones, and friends with gifts, take expensive vacations, or live "high on the hog."

Losing Stage

However, the winning stage eventually—perhaps very quickly—turns into the losing stage. As losses mount, the gambler becomes preoccupied with gambling. The need to make bigger and more frequent bets grows. The financial and emotional stakes get higher. Often, filled with guilt and shame, the gambler starts to "chase" the losses, hoping to make them up by making bigger and more frequent bets.

Here is where the problem gambler begins "maxing" out credit cards, cashing in insurance policies, pawning or selling personal property, dipping, into investment and retirement accounts, and borrowing heavily. The problem gambler may start missing work and begin lying to fan-Lily and friends about his or her gambling habit. Gamblers who are "jammed up" start looking for "bailouts" from family and friends, sometimes blaming it on a phony financial catastrophe, unexpected expenses, or inadequate income.

This is commonly the stage when the gambler's spouse, partner, parents, children, relatives, or friends begin to notice signs of a gambling problem. They may directly suffer financial problems as bill collectors and relatives owed money begin knocking on the door. The rent or mortgage payment may be behind, the car has been repossessed, and the power company is threatening to shut off utilities.

More and more gamblers are calling hot lines or seeking professional treatment at this stage. Unfortunately, others progress to the next stage before seeking help.

Desperation Stage

In the desperation stage, the gambler may begin to experience health problems, such as insomnia, as debts mount and relationships deteriorate. The financial problems tend to reach a crisis stage: the problem gambler may face eviction, and all financial resources are exhausted. The gambler may even turn to crime. Emotionally, the problem gambler often feels powerless, hopeless, and depressed. Action gamblers often begin to gamble like escape gamblers, preferring the hypnotic-like slots or video poker to escape their misery. During this stage, the gambler may simply run away from family and debts. Suicide is another common option. Or the gambler may finally reach out for help--including financial help.

While experts commonly cite only three stages in problem gambling, some now describe a fourth stage, the hopeless stage. At this point, the gambler no longer believes there is hope or help. Depression is common and suicide is a real risk. The problem gambler becomes more likely to commit crimes.

Again, keep in mind that the problem gambler may not experience A of these stages, or experience them in a distinct, progressive order. A problem gambler may actually have started out losing money, become desperate, then win, and start a new cycle.