There are hundreds of thousands of documented cases of compulsive gambling in the world. The widespread issue is considered to be a disease, which causes people to get as addicted to gambling as they can be to other malicious substances such as LSD or Cocaine. As such, and as with any other disease, it is known that people who are thought to be compulsive gamblers go through various stages that indicate how addicted they are.

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Many compulsive gamblers share the same similarities when it comes to the way their illness manifests. As research suggests, most compulsive gamblers undergo five different stages of their addiction, which each of these stages being progressively worse than the last. However, the stages tend to manifest differently depending on the traits of each individual.

How to Tell if Someone is a Compulsive Gambler

There are usually two types of compulsive gamblers: escape gamblers and action gamblers. Escape gamblers are usually people who have had issues in the past and are mentally affected by them, but they use gambling as a way to escape their problems. They gain their name thanks to the fact that they shield themselves with gambling as they leave the rest of their problems behind.

Action gamblers, on the other hand, are often confident males who have been gambling most of their lives. In most cases, action gamblers are players that started placing bets or playing chance games in their teenage years, although there are some exceptions to this rule. Generally, both the escape gambler and the action gambler follow a stereotype and stay true to it.

Most action compulsive gambler tend to stick to games that require a lot of skill apart from luck. This reflects the confidence that they usually have in themselves, as well as the belief that their skill is more than enough to get them to win a lot of money in any given game. Poker, dice games, and sports betting tend to be the most common types of games in which action gamblers are found.

It’s also important to note that action compulsive gamblers don’t always care if the type of gambling that they participate in is illegal or legal. They usually aim to partake in any type of skill-based game as long as there are other people playing it as well. In any case, they all follow a set of stages that usually remains the same throughout every case.

Phase 1 – The Winning Phase

The first stage is the most encouraging phase that an action compulsive gambler goes through. In fact, it’s rather ironic how their rise is usually just the beginning of their demise, as studies have shown. Most active compulsive gamblers tend to start off with a big win, or netting a series of wins in different games that have them earn so much money that it becomes better than what they make in a year.

As good as this phase is, it usually doesn’t last too long. Most active compulsive gamblers tend to experience a period of huge wins during the first 4 years of their gambling life, as an estimate. As they tend to play in skill-based tables, winning created the belief inside their heads that they are far better than any other competitor.

While it might prove to be true in some cases, usually luck is playing a huge part on their side of the story. However, the action compulsive gambler doesn’t realize this at first. They think that their skills are entirely responsible for the way they win against other players, which creates a superiority complex inside their heads.

This complex leads them to wager more and more money as time goes on, and they also commit much more time and personal resources into their game. In fact, many actions compulsive gamblers go as far as believing that they are better than some professionals, and even think that they could go pro themselves if they wanted to.

These thoughts make them reach stage two, which is the second part that dictates the life of someone with a compulsive gambling disorder.

Phase 2 – The Losing Phase

As it is to be expected, action compulsive gamblers tend to run out of luck around the 4 or 5-year mark of their gambling life. This is probably the phase in which the damage done by the compulsive gambling disorder is more clearly shown, as the gambler starts engaging in the practice known as chasing their loses.

Stage 2 - Losing - Compulsive gambling

That means that when a player starts losing a lot of money, they will start thinking that they’re just having a run of bad luck and that their fortunes will change. As a consequence of this, their strong sense of self-belief makes them start betting more and more money as time goes by, which also makes them lose a lot more than what they win.

In fact, since the gamblers reach a state of delusion during phase two, it means that they will start placing bets when the winning probabilities are highly unlikely to favor them. Deep down, the gamblers even know this – they know that the odds are firmly against them, but the state in which they are in makes them still place the bets thinking they can win.

The second phase of the compulsive gambling disorder is when the gambler becomes way more deceptive and change their attitudes towards others in order to keep alive his lie of “being better than the rest”. These attitude changes are very clearly noticeable by those around him, albeit it could take some time for non-acquaintances to realize this.

  • Focusing on wins – One of the most common things that a gambler does during phase two is only focusing on their wins when speaking about gambling with other people. They will never bring up their loses, regardless of how much money they are wasting. This is mainly done to keep the lie alive, and it’s easy to see through it when combined with the other changes in their attitude.However, it could prove to be quite difficult to understand this at first considering how they were lucky during stage one, and since they were actually winning back then, those around them might really believe that they’re still going strong with their bets.
  • Deceiving Behavior – Active compulsive gamblers tend to try their hardest to hide their addictive behavior from others, which leads them to become far more deceitful than what they really are. It’s common for a compulsive gambler to tell lies about what they are doing, or even lies about how much money they’ve spent on gambling and how much time they’ve dedicated to the task.
  • Asking friends for money – This is probably one of the most dangerous and common things that compulsive gamblers do – they ask their friends, relative, and even not-so-well-known acquaintances for money, promising that they will pay it back soon. They rarely pay it back, given that they usually lose it all within a few days with poor gambling decisions.Such an attitude makes compulsive gamblers to stray away from friends and relatives in order to avoid paying their debts. It’s also very common for a compulsive gambler to avoid calls and any other form of communication than the loaners intend to have with them.The compulsive gambler might also take out a bank loan or a monetary advance option if they are desperate for more money, which is a highly common scenario when the affliction reaches the end of the second phase.
  • Monetary Urgency – Once the gambler has depleted all sources of money and find themselves in no way to obtain more, they will start coming up with emergencies in order to ask more people for money. It’s highly likely that they will approach their bosses in order to ask them for a monetary advance, or even their parents and close relative using a medical emergency as an excuse.


They might succeed on the task depending on how good a way with words they have, but those who are close to them will quickly pick up on what’s happening after the money is gone and nothing changes.

Once they receive their first loan, though, it’s likely that the money they get is going to be much more than what they expected in the first place. This will leave the active compulsive gambler with a surplus sum of cash that they didn’t think they would have, which they are going to spend in more bets and wagers. Once the money runs out, they will advance to the third phase of the affliction.

Phase 3 – The Compulsive Desperation Phase

The third phase is one that doesn’t tend to last a specific amount of time, but rather a random amount of time depending on how the gambler behaves and his personal attitudes and choices. The third stage sees the gambler enter a state of total desperation where he always needs to gamble and doesn’t think about anything else, which leads them to spiral into thoughts that could even turn suicidal if not controlled. The attitudes present in phase 2 increase and even become worse.

During the third stage, gamblers tend to lie even more profusely, to the point where even they can believe their own lies. Furthermore, it’s also likely that gamblers start placing more and more bets when they feel bad in order to try to cover their negative feelings.

The lies that compulsive gamblers tell in this stage are often perceived to be the truth by themselves. If someone somehow finds out that they’re lying and call out the gambler for it, the afflicted will come up with ways to blame whoever discovered his lie for his own faults and wrongdoings. This stage is very dangerous and, depending on the afflicted individual, could result in manifested aggression against third parties.

This is also the state in which they start caring even less for their safety and their families, so they usually start recurring to illegal activities in order to keep supporting their gambling addiction. They might take up loans from the wrong people, and their home life usually suffers almost irreparable damage. In most cases, this is the phase in which gamblers divorce from their spouses.

However, if their spouse doesn’t split from the gambler, it’s highly likely that they will use any critical situation to make the gambler get his affliction treated. In some cases, the spouse gives an ultimatum to the afflicted gambler and it often results in the compulsive player seeking treatment. However, since the gambler is still in the third stage, he often doesn’t put too much effort into getting better.

Phase 4 – Rock Bottom

The fourth phase could be the final phase for many compulsive gamblers. During this phase, the gambler loses all hope and simply decides his life is not worth it anymore. This is the phase in which the most suicides occur, as many gamblers attempt to kill themselves once they reach such a low point in their lives. At times, however, they also take actions that see them end up in jail, ensuring that they simply aren’t going to be around again.

If they somehow don’t do anything during this phase that causes them to die or go to jail for a long time, then they can move on to phase 5.

Phase 5 – Getting Better

After the gambler hits rock bottom, they can finally begin to pull themselves up from the ground. During the fifth stage of their process, the gamblers finally accept that they have a problem and are ready to deal with it. In fact, phase 5 represents the first time in which the gambler seeks help on his own and does it wanting to do it, unlike in previous occasions.

Gamblers that reach this stage often undergo support group meetings and their attitudes change significantly. It’s important, however, that the gambler never engages in such practices again – they could relapse if they do, so staying away from any sort of gambling after getting better is crucial to their ultimate recovery.

Help for Compulsive Gamblers

Compulsive gambling can be successfully treated. Cognitive behavioural therapy has been shown to reduce symtoms and urges for many gamblers. For people who want to stop gambling, have a look at these resources:

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