Common phases of problem gambling

Problem gamblers typically go through four phases as their problem develops. Of course, every situation is different, but you may want to watch for the following signs.


  • Marked by occasional gambling and frequent winning.
  • Gambling is a fun, social, exciting activity.
  • Gambling makes the gambler feel like a big shot.
  • Gambler fantasizes about how to spend the money.
  • Amount gambled and frequency of gambling begins to increase.
  • At some point, the gambler experiences the “big win.” This is the most common hook for a compulsive gambler.


  • Marked by lying, borrowing, missed work and missed bill payments.
  • Gambler chases losses.
  • Amount gambled and frequency of gambling increases more rapidly.
  • Gambling alone.
  • Gambler stashes money and grows more protective of it.
  • Gambler is preoccupied.
  • Personality changes (more irritable, anxious and withdrawn).
  • Home life becomes unhappy.
  • Bailouts from loved ones begin.


  • May be marked by an increase or decrease in amounts and frequency of gambling (depending on funds available).
  • Gambler experiences remorse, panic and alienation from family and friends.
  • Gambler is unable to pay debts.
  • Gambler blames others including friends, family members, the government, the casino, etc.
  • Gambler commits illegal acts such as writing bad checks, embezzlement, fraud and forgery.


  • Gambler experiences suicidal thoughts and attempts.
  • Gambler may be arrested for illegal acts.
  • Substance abuse and depression are common.
  • Gambler may experience withdrawal including headaches, shaking, aching, nausea, diarrhea and constipation. These symptoms may last for a week.
  • Marital problems may result in divorce.

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