stages of gambling addiction

The Four Stages of Gambling Addiction

Gambling in the United States is big business. Having survived more than a few attempts to be outlawed, avenues to facilitate gambling have increasingly become legalized. In addition to state lotteries and tribal casinos, legal sports betting and online gambling portals have provided the public with easy access to gamble.

Like many behavior-related addictions, gambling addiction can have a profound negative impact on every aspect of your life. If ignored, an addiction to gambling can cause you financial problems, disrupt your professional career, and end relationships. Fortunately, treatment for gambling addiction is available.

In this article, we’re taking a closer look at the four stages of gambling addiction.

The Four Stages of Gambling Addiction

Just as with alcohol, the fact that something is legal doesn’t make it a good choice for everyone to engage in. While one person may be fine with occasionally hitting the slots or buying a lottery ticket, another person will find that it becomes increasingly difficult to imagine a future that doesn’t involve a big, financial, payout. Statistics indicate that while 80% of Americans engage in some form of gambling each year, at least 5% will end up addicted to it.

While it is nearly impossible to predict which of us will fall prey to the trap of gambling addiction, there are several indicators to be on alert for before deciding to go ahead and play that first game. Gambling addiction both arises as a result of – and can create – many other forms of mental health disorder. Those who have experienced a struggle with other forms of addiction – such as with alcohol or drugs – are statistically more likely to develop an addiction to gambling. People who have experienced deep traumas in life are more at risk of developing a dependency on the highs of gambling. Those who suffer from anxiety and depression can also find themselves vulnerable to the distraction and escape from reality that the hope in a long shot provides.

Here are the four stages of gambling addiction.

Stage One: Winning

If it weren’t for this stage, not many folks would end up with any kind of addiction to gambling. The winning stage is defined by its name, as it develops as a result of experiencing at least one lucky break. This is where the casual player decides that he or she has a gift from the gods, and that gift is the golden touch of knowing how to outsmart the system in a way that will consistently result in a payoff. Whether that gift is considered as luck or skill, it is virtually assured to be one that resembles the cautionary tale of King Midas. The very thing which is providing the gambler with joy and prosperity, at this stage, will be what brings grief, in the next.

Stage Two: Losing

Just when feeling secure about the ability to solve all financial and social problems through successful gambling takes root, the gambler will inevitably run into some rough seas. The level of dedication to the belief that the next win is just around the corner will dictate how rough these seas can get before the gambler realizes that a lifeboat is needed. Unfortunately, the common response to a losing streak is to choose to believe that the storm of bad luck will pass quickly, and the sunshine of winning is sure to return. In spite of rational odds being against a rebound, the gambler will press onward and will persist in digging the hole of debt even deeper.

Stage Three: Desperation

At some point along the slippery, downward, the slope of a losing streak, it will begin to become apparent that no lucky break is making an appearance. Rather than cutting losses, a person with a gambling addiction will choose to double down. The long-term prudence of keeping money sitting in a savings account will take a back seat to use that stash to fund the habit. If money hasn’t already been borrowed toward funding the pot by this point, the requests for loans from friends, family members, and banks will start. The desperation stage of gambling addiction can prompt even an honest person to lie and steal in the hopes that all will be paid back, eventually. All the while, the desperate gambler will be arguing with a little voice that is screaming at him or her to stop.

Stage Four: Hopelessness

This final category is a latecomer to the identified process of gambling addiction. Prior to its inclusion, models of gambling addiction tended to stop at the stage of desperation. There is a place of despair that exists past the frantic attempts to remedy the thought of losing it all. This place is the stage of hopelessness. Hopelessness is characterized by seeing no more point in continuing.

A person who has reached this lowest stage has come to realize that there are no amount of schemes, bargaining chips, or negotiations that will reverse the damage. It is at this point that some will be tempted to entertain the idea of simply escaping it all through planning a suicide. It is important to realize that this level of hopelessness is actually the place where genuine change can begin. We often have to stop thrashing around in our misguided pool of ideas before we can be assisted out of the drowning.

Treatment for Gambling Addiction

Whichever stage of gambling addiction you find yourself at, there are professionals who are ready to help you make your way out of it.

Whether you opt for inpatient support or outpatient treatment, your recovery team will work with you to determine what will be most effective for your situation.

Evaluation, individual therapy, group counseling, support groups, and even medications are available to assist you as you go. With the right resources, you will be able to gain the tools required for moving forward into your next adventure. It may not be an easy win, but the reward of recovery is sweet.


While gambling addiction follows the basic pattern of most other addictions, experts have refined the identification of the specific stages which characterize it. The stages are intuitive, and those who have struggled with addiction to gambling are likely to easily be able to recall the thoughts and feelings that go along with each phase. Those who are able to escape the gambling addiction before reaching the end stages are the ones who end up truly lucky.