While the majority of adults can gamble safely as a form of recreation, many don’t consider that it can become a problem for some, and dangerous misconceptions about problem gambling persist. For example, some believe that when an individual is experiencing negative consequences due to their gambling, this is simply a result of a lack of willpower, and that stopping is simple. Nothing could be further from the truth! Misconceptions like this one also lead to stigmatization of those who are in dire need of supports and may delay that person’s decision to seek help and hope that are readily accessible in the State of Florida through the 888-ADMIT-IT Problem Gambling HelpLine.
Today, gambling disorder is classified as a Substance-Related and Addictive Disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic Statistical Manual 5. Similar to cases of substance abuse, those addicted to gambling are unable to stop on their own and suffer a wide range of debilitating life impacts. Unlike substance abuse disorders, problem gambling can progress under the surface for months or even years due to the lack of physical symptoms. Another important difference is that money is the drug that fuels gambling addiction, which means negative consequences can very quickly spiral out of control and directly impact loved ones, too. Millions are impacted by problem gambling nationally with hundreds of thousands in Florida – you are not alone!
This is a good time to reflect and understand that problem gambling is a progressive disorder. So, with this above information in mind, take an honest look at your gambling habits, along with any negative consequences that may be impacting you and those around you.
In 1974, a well-renowned psychiatrist by the name of Robert Custer, who was a pioneer in helping compulsive gamblers, identified three phases of disordered gambling: The Winning Phase, The Losing Phase, and The Desperation Phase. Researchers’ understanding of problem gambling has come a long way since 1974! Now, there are seven recognized stages of problem gambling development and recovery. A main takeaway here is that the progressive nature of problem gambling means it will only get worse over time, unless help is sought.
Stage One: Winning Stage
In the beginning, the compulsive gambler often experiences a “big win,” which results in more frequent gambling and increased wagers. This tends to enhance self-image, and the gambler begins to fantasize about winning and the wonderful and exciting future this will bring about. Unreasonable optimism develops.
Note: Some gamblers never experience this phase and skip to the following stages of progression.
Stage Two: Losing Stage
During this period, the compulsive gambler thinks only about gambling. Personality changes begin to develop. Lies, borrowing money, and cover-ups are common. The gambler can no longer control the gambling, and relationships with family, friends, and employers deteriorate.
Stage Three: Desperation Stage
The gambler can no longer pay debts and looks for bailouts that could be legal or illegal. These actions are rationalized as a means of getting even or recovering their losses. As the “chase” continues, the gambler panics at the prospect that the action will stop. During this time, the gambler clings to the belief that a winning streak, which will solve all their problems, is just around the corner. There are increasing signs of depression, irritability, and thoughts of suicide may be present.
Stage Four: Hopelessness Stage
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% of the time, this type of despair may lead the gambler to attempt suicide.
Stage Five: Critical Stage
This person has reached the rock-bottom of their addiction, and has a newfound resolve to make things better. This stage is characterized by the person making decisions designed to lead to a solution to problems gambling has created. They have an honest desire for help, and an understanding that steps taken to start recovery need to be realistic. They may begin to do things more positively, such as rededicate to work or family life, and will seek to understand life away from gambling activity with higher levels of clarity.
Stage Six: Rebuilding Stage
The Rebuilding Stage allows the person to identify new interests, enhance their relationships with friends and family, and begin setting right the wrongs they created in their addiction. A defining feature of this stage is increases in awareness related to their own strengths and weaknesses with their addiction, and finding ways to keep their progress moving forward. The levels of success the problem gambler is having staying away leads to higher levels of self-respect, and richer interactions with others. Measures taken to repair gambling damages can include paying bills, established family financial plans, a budget, resolving legal problems, and experiencing less irritation and stress involved in the problems from the addiction.
Stage Seven: Growth Stage
In this stage, the person embraces a new way of life. They keep the insight and awareness they have built through this difficult process as a message for themselves and others. This person is also able to face problems promptly, and head-on, and is experiencing less pre-occupation related to their past gambling, and risk of relapse. The goal of this phase is to continue to grow as a person, and stay strong in all efforts that support a gambling free lifestyle. They are able to live for themselves and others around them, and can be willing to sacrifice or support others in many areas of life. Family relationships continue to grow, and the recovering person is able to show affection in ways that had been lost in the addiction. Generally, this person has lived a gambling free lifestyle for more than six months, and continues to work on growing as an individual in many areas of their life.
At this point, it is a good idea to consider the costs of your gambling. Do you recognize your gambling habits or that of a loved one when reading about these phases? Where you see yourself or a loved one in this progression is less important than recognizing that help and hope are available for problem gambling in Florida, that professional treatment and hundreds of other resources specific to problem gambling exist, and that recovery is possible. Even if you are still not sure whether gambling has become a problem, calling or texting the 24/7, Confidential, and Multilingual 888-ADMIT-IT Problem Gambling HelpLine to speak to a live Specialist about problem gambling and supports available is a great first step.
Have you ever considered the potential benefits if you were to STOP gambling? What could be the potential costs if you don’t? Here is an initial screening with three questions to see if further evaluation is necessary. This is the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen (BBGS) used by professionals to help with this process. If you answer “yes” to any one of these questions, then now is the time to contact the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine to see what your next step is before the disorder progresses.
- During the past 12 months, have you become restless, irritable or anxious when trying to stop/cut down on gambling?
- During the past 12 months, have you tried to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you gambled?
- During the past 12 months did you have such financial trouble as a result of your gambling that you had to get help with living expenses from family, friends or welfare?
Call or text the 888-ADMIT-IT HelpLine today and connect with no-cost, judgement-free support. The HelpLine can also be reached through live chat at gamblinghelp.org, by email to [email protected], through the 888-ADMIT-IT mobile app, and by connecting with the FCCG on social media.