What are the “three phases” of gambling addiction?
The progressive, downward cycle of pathological gambling typically follows a pattern of increasing involvement in the addictive behavior. Robert L. Custer, M.D., identified the development of the disease as following three phases:
During the winning phase, gamblers experience a big win-or a series of wins-that leaves them with unreasonable optimism that their winning will continue. This leads them to feel great excitement when gambling, and they begin increasing the amounts of their bets.
During the losing phase, the gamblers often begin bragging about wins they have had, start gambling alone, think more about gambling and borrow money-legally or illegally. They start lying to family and friends and become more irritable, restless and withdrawn. Their home life becomes more unhappy, and they are unable to pay off debts. The gamblers begin to “chase” their losses, believing they must return as soon as possible to win back their losses.
During the desperation phase, there is a marked increase in the time spent gambling. This is accompanied by remorse, blaming others and alienating family and friends. Eventually, the gamblers may engage in illegal acts to finance their gambling. They may experience hopelessness, suicidal thoughts and attempts, arrests, divorce, alcohol and/or other drug abuse, or an emotional breakdown.
A final phase can be categorized as the hopelessness phase, where gamblers cannot see a way out of their predicament. They have reached “the bottom,” and at this point almost all pathological gamblers consider suicide and about 20% will attempt it.
Two forms of gambling that can lead to full scale loss of control and life destruction relatively quickly are video poker and slot machines. These are sometimes called the “crack cocaine of gambling” because of their immediate and effective reinforcement schedules. A gambler addicted to slot or video-poker machines can progress into the desperation phase in two to three years.
Contact Gamblers Anonymous for help.