Understanding the Stages of Gambling Addiction

Apr 25, 2024

Gambling addiction, or problem gambling, as defined by the California Department of Public Health, is the uncontrollable urge to gamble despite negative consequences in a person’s life. Gambling addiction can become clear when it takes a toll on an individual’s general health and affects an individual's finances and relationships. 

Whether the problem stems from impulse control or behavioral addiction (studies go back and forth on the categorization), like serious alcohol and drug abuse, gambling can easily trigger the brain’s reward center, potentially placing an individual in blind fantastical pursuit of “the next big win” – a cyclical trap reminiscent of a black hole. 

Of course, gambling addiction, like other addictions, is not one size fits all. Not everyone suffering from serious gambling addiction reaches rock bottom or a staggering moment of realization in the same vein. There is, however, a general progression of gambling addiction most individuals experience. It’s up to the individual to realize there could be a problem and do something about it, but equipped with the knowledge of this general cycle, you may be able to spot the signs within yourself or a loved one.

With some form of legal gambling available in 38 states and online sports betting now permitted in 29 states and counting, countless new bettors enter the scene daily, creating the potential for more problem gamblers in need of some help. 

What are the stages of gambling addiction?

There are four typical stages gambling addicts progress through: Winning Phase, Losing Phase, Desperation Phase and Hopeless Phase. There is no general timetable for how long each phase lasts. Some people can last in the first two phases for a considerable period, and others can reach the bottom in an instant. Some can reach a particular phase and break out of it, too! There is always hope. No matter where you are, let's begin breaking down the first phase, the “Winning Phase.”

  1. Winning Phase

Any gambling newcomer can quickly enter the winning phase, also known as the honeymoon phase. At this point, gambling is a new and exciting occasional venture that is likely social. As the name implies, winning is frequent in this phase, providing a false sense of security that winning more than losing is sure to continue. The gambler experiences an uptick in confidence and self-esteem, leading to the belief gambling can be a quick way to elevate finances. The gambler begins fantasizing about how to spend their winnings. A “big win” at some point during this stage is the potential hook to increase the frequency and size of bets, often leading the gambler into the next phase.

  1. Losing Phase

Also known as the “Chasing Phase,” common demarcations of this phase include lying to oneself and loved ones, missing work and bill payments, borrowing money and, you guessed it, frequently chasing losses to get even or back to a net profit. In this phase, the gambler experiences exponential growth in the size of bets and frequency of placing bets. Gambling becomes less social in this phase. The gambler may be more preoccupied with their activity and protective over their money. The gambler may be accompanied by irritability, anxiousness and withdrawn behavior. The gambler begins to consciously or unconsciously detach from close relationships.

  1. Desperation Phase

Alienation, remorse and panic are common adjectives to describe the gambler in this state. At this point, the gambler is out of control, possibly low funds and unable to pay off critical debts. Despite the financial losses, the gambler continues their pursuit of unattainable glory. The gambler may resort to crime in the form of fraud and embezzlement. Beyond potential financial losses, the gambler experiences a loss of self-worth, raising insecurities to fix blame upon a series of external factors.

  1. Hopeless Phase

This is rock bottom. The gambler feels like he or she is out of options. Arrests, divorce, substance abuse, depression, withdrawal manifesting in a series of physical ailments, suicidal thoughts and attempts are all possibilities for an individual who has reached this final part of the progression. The gambler has lost hope and believes anyone caring and any impactful help is out of the question.

Is there treatment for gambling addiction?

It is possible to quit gambling if the individual is willing and has access to the right resources. If you or a loved one seeks gambling addiction treatment from the comfort of home, Birches Health is the right choice. Birches employs licensed counselors with years of treating problem gambling under their belt, and they can work with your insurance to create a customized plan tailored to your needs. With $0-out-of-pocket costs, Birches ensures 100% confidentially, security and convenient care. 

SOURCES:

California Department of Public Health

Minnesota Department of Human Services

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