Stages of Compulsive Gambling By Elements Behavioral Health posted on October 19, in Addiction Compulsive or pathological gambling is a progressive illness, a psychological disorder which is just as difficult to overcome as addiction to alcohol or drugs.
The compulsive gambler experiences a series of stages, each with its own warning signs. While the number of stages varies from 3 to 5, depending on the source, all are similar in the first three. This article discusses the 5 stages, since that is the most complete. Note that not all compulsive gamblers will experience all of the phases, as they may give up before the final one. In addition, here we will refer to the action compulsive gambler, primarily male, as opposed to an escape problem gambler, primarily female.
He is also confident, assertive, energetic and very persuasive, yet with a low self-esteem. Typically, the action compulsive gambler started gambling early, often in the teenage years. The phases occur over a 10 to 30 year period. Games of choice are typically those of skill, usually card games, such as poker, or craps or dice games, horse or dog racing, and sports betting — both legal and illegal gambling venues. Studies of action compulsive gamblers show that during the later phases, he will often switch to slots or video poker games in an attempt to escape from the desperation he feels over continued losses.
The numbing or narcotic-like effect of these machines acts as a kind of medication to the action compulsive gambler.
Of course, this is an illusion. At this point, the gambler spends more and more time gambling, increasing both gambling frequency and amounts of money. Eventually, and predictably, the action compulsive gambler embarks on the second stage. During this time, the action compulsive gambler bets increasingly larger sums and steps up the pace and frequency of his gambling. The action compulsive gambler resorts to borrowing money to finance his compulsion. It may be a credit card advance, or dipping into savings.
He may ask for a loan from a friend. The action compulsive gambler has to cook up some phony emergency to convince his spouse, family, friends or employer to ante up the money to cover this setback. Depending on how accomplished a liar he is, he probably gets this first emergency loan. Of course, he asks for and receives more than he really needs. He uses the extra cash for his gambling money and, naturally, is back in the thick of gambling just as before — with one exception: Stage 3 — Desperation This stage may be only a brief period of time, or it may drag on for years.
During this time, the action compulsive gambler spends all of his time thinking about gambling, where to obtain the money to continue gambling, what his next bet will be, when and where, ways to beat the system, and how to come out on top again.
He is completely out of control. He simply has to gamble. The pattern of negative behaviors increases in frequency and intensity, along with his losses. The action compulsive gambler frequently trips up in his lies, spinning yet more elaborate lies in an effort to cover up the earlier fabrications. He even blames the person who sees through his lies. It stopped being a source of comfort years ago. In fact, his spouse may have already threatened to leave him, take the kids away and deprive him of visitation — or has already left.
Friends, family and co-workers are wise to the game. Credit cards are maxed out, savings depleted. At this point, the action compulsive gambler will steal or embezzle money while he convinces himself that he will pay it back once he wins big. Merchants are on a cash-only basis. Everywhere are unpaid bills — and no cash to pay them. Every cent goes back into gambling. She is fully aware of his lying, and that he cannot stop gambling. She suffers incredible hurt at his betrayal and deception. Still, she covers for him by lying to others and trying to keep up a good front.
She begs him to stop gambling, and wants to believe him when he says he promises to stop. For his part, the action compulsive gambler still believes and acts as if he is in complete control. He thinks others still buy his falsehoods. He wants his family life to go back to the way it was — because he does truly love them. At this downward spiral of the desperation phase, the action compulsive gambler starts to think about ways of ending his misery.
Suicidal thoughts or attempts to commit suicide become more commonplace. It may take an arrest or a suicide attempt for the spouse of the action compulsive gambler to be galvanized into action — forcing the gambler to get treatment. Some action compulsive gamblers arrive at this conclusion on their own, but not many.
They may make a call to a treatment facility or group, but only after someone else either strongly recommended it or gave him an ultimatum. Or, it could be a court-ordered recovery program or an employer-mandated step group.
He thinks his family should rally around him and support him. He goes through the motions, paying lip-service to the treatment. After only a few meetings or sessions, he believes he has all he needs from the program, and that he has again become a hero because he stopped gambling. He stops going or quits treatment.
His ego is again inflated. All too soon, he really is back gambling, and losing, and on an ever more progressive downward slide. He may go back into a treatment program or attend some more meetings, over and over again.
Eventually, he may sincerely wish to end his compulsive gambling and take the program seriously. Often, however, the cycle of gambling has an end result of more criminal activity, jail time, or even death. Stage 4 — Hopelessness There is yet another negative phase in the stages of compulsive gambling.
And, yes, it does get worse. He just gives up, not caring any longer whether he lives or dies. In fact, he wishes he were dead, and may make one or more attempts at suicide at this point, if he has not already done so. If not ending their actual life, many action compulsive gamblers in the final throes of stage four resort to activities that cause them to become incarcerated.
Having lost all hope, the action compulsive gambler believes that there is no hope left. No one cares and all is lost. For many action compulsive gamblers, the fourth phase is the final phase.
They either die or go to jail. For a few, however, there is a fifth phase — one, finally, of recovery. Stage 5 — Recovery It takes a sincere and, for many action compulsive gamblers, a herculean effort to go into stage five. They have to admit that they have a problem and genuinely want to do whatever it takes to overcome it.
Total abstinence from gambling is required — just as it is for recovering alcoholics and substance abusers. There can be no such thing as a little gambling, or gambling for fun. One slip back into gambling is just like the first drop of alcohol, the first hit of a drug — relapse. Tips and techniques, and support from others in like situations step groups are immensely important in the recovery phase.
In conclusion, while not every action compulsive gambler will go through every stage of the cycle, he will normally go through the first three at a minimum.
Many stop at stage four and never make it to recovery. But there is hope for those who do reach the recovery stage. With more attention to compulsive gambling and the tremendous cost to the individual, the family, and society, better treatments and coping skills will continue to be developed.