Progression of a Gambling Problem
Problem gambling is defined as a progressive increase in gambling (both frequency and amount of money) over time and an inability to stop despite negative consequences. The term problem gambler is preferred, because it includes other types – pathological gambler and compulsive gambler. The harm doesn’t have to be entirely borne by the gambler, often it is visited upon loved ones and others.
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A key feature is the violations of trust that problem gamblers commit. Their gambling may lead to serious financial difficulties for their families or even embezzlement at their jobs.
Classification of problem gamblers
There are two main types of gamblers
1. Those who are drawn to it because of the action
This type engages gambling as a stimulating activity – they are more likely to ‘follow the numbers’ or become immersed in systems. They are mentally stimulated and gambling provides the excitement and risk like no other area of their lives. These gamblers are more prone to exploding in an all-or-nothing style.
2. Those that are fleeing from their lives
This second type is the passive gambler who is not looking for excitement so much as escape into the familiar. These gamblers are prone to slot machines or other mechanical styles of play. They are numbing themselves and withdrawing from problems in their normal life. These gamblers also progress into higher bets and losses, but are less likely than the action gamblers to blow-up. For these people, the time spent gambling increases and this drives the money side.
Both types will show an increased preoccupation with gambling, an inability to stop for more than a short time, rationalization about losses and a spiral down into more and more serious consequences.
The phases of gambling addiction
Gambling addiction follows a pattern. There are three clear steps downward, deeper into the addiction; there are also three steps needed to escape.
The three phases downward towards gambling addiction are:
- Winning phase
- An optimistic rush that comes from a win or a series of wins. Problem gamblers tend to focus on these and ignore the losses. They may construct a narrative they repeat to themselves and others about this positive-seeming experience.
- Losing phase
- The flip-side of the winning phase, when the mathematical laws of chance begin to catch up with the gambler. The more they gamble, the more these statistics kick in. This phase is marked by increased financial and social difficulties as the gambler tries to make up for losses.
- Desperation phase
- At this point, the gambler is deep into a dream world where circumstances and other people are blamed for losses. The gambler becomes more and more withdrawn, and the only remedy for the bad feelings becomes more gambling behavior. At this point a gambler may resort to extreme borrowing or theft to finance their addiction. Suicidal thoughts arise.
- This phase includes the most obvious negative consequences of gambling – depression and anxiety, serious relationship and financial problems, and criminal conviction.
These three phases may be repeated over and over for years as the gambler’s fortunes fall and rise. They may complete a cycle with one type of game and then move to another, even switching venues from a casino to an off-track betting establishment or moving from sports betting to lotteries.
The phases of recovery from gambling addiction
Escape from a gambling addiction entails three steps as well:
- Critical phase
- The gambler comes to terms with the fact that gambling is a losing proposition. They begin to understand that the behavior is harmful and can never fulfill their expectations. Part of this is recognizing the predatory nature of gambling and understanding how they are ultimately being victimized.
- Building phase
- This is a time when the gambler begins to find other positive activities they can find pleasure in; they find new value in work and family relationships as well as non-gambling hobbies. It is based on accepting their innate weaknesses when it comes to gambling and avoiding all opportunities.
- Growth phase
- In this phase, the gambler comes to grips with the true nature of their lives, both the hardships and the joys. Realism replaces the previous extremes of optimism or pessimism and they come to accept their own faults and the faults of others.