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.
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."
However, the winning stage eventuallyperhaps very quicklyturns 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.
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.