Compulsive gamblers often follow a pattern of behavior that is outlined in four distinct phases.
A gambling addiction often begins with the experience of a “big win,” which results in more frequent gambling and increased wagers. With an enhanced self-image and unreasonable optimism, the gambler begins to fantasize about winning. Note: Some gamblers never experience this phase and skip to the following stages of progression.
During this period, the imagined “big wins” don’t materialize. Meanwhile, thoughts of gambling absorb the compulsive gambler’s mind, and personality changes begin to develop. Borrowing money, lying, and covering up his/her actions are common. The gambler can no longer control the gambling as relationships with family, friends, and employers deteriorate.
The gambler can no longer pay debts and looks for bailouts by any means possible. During this time, the gambler clings to the belief that a winning streak is right around the corner, solving all their problems. There are increasing signs of depression, irritability, and suicidal thoughts.
At this point, serious consequences begin to occur, which may seem irreversible, such as arrests, divorce, alcohol or other substance abuse problems, emotional breakdowns, and serious withdrawal symptoms. The gambler realizes that getting even or catching up is not possible, but no longer cares. Approximately 20 percent of individuals in this phase attempt suicide.