Is compulsive gambling progressive? The cycle of a gambler

Does gambling addiction get worse over time? Yes. Here we present a diagram and explanation of the step-by-step progression of a typical gambling addict over time.

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The cycle of compulsive gambling

In a previous post, Signs of Slot Machine Addiction, I promised to share the actual step-by-step progression of a typical gambling addict. As you can see from the chart, this cycle is set up over many years and many decisions.

Predisposed factors of a problem gambler

The progression of problem gambling starts at a very young age and each person’s length of journey is unique and dependent on many factors. However, compulsive gambling always starts with seeking fun and excitement, each opportunity to win is addictive and may create an addictive compulsive behavior.

Starting at the “Begins” BOX in the top left corner and following the arrows, you will notice three key factors that tend to be set in place that will cause an individual to be predisposed with a high probability of becoming an addict. These predisposing factors are:

1. Personality traits
2. Family factors
3. Biological factors

Chasing gambling losses

When a person begins to lose at the casino, the tracks, or in the sports betting hall, and sometimes loses big, loss usually starts the cycle of shame associated with compulsive gambling. Instead of getting help, a compulsive gambler will chase the losses and jump right back into the world of gambling. Each time s/he becomes more in debt with credit cards, borrows from friends and family members, and quite often becomes a theft and liar.

On average, the problem gambler who seeks help for gambling addiction in a treatment setting is already $40,000.00 in debt. They have deceived those closest to them and isolated themselves from most people.

Decision time for the compulsive gambler

You will notice that men and women with a gambling problem then come to the point of having to decide: “Which way do I go? Continue gambling or stop gambling?” It is here where all the key decisions are made. Most of the time, the compulsive gambler will avoid all consequences and go right back to gambling. Each trip around the cycle brings a deeper commitment to the behavior until negative consequences are forced upon them, which in turn swings the gambler back into the gambling cycle.

Shame drives the cycle of addiction

Watch out for shame. Shame drives the cycle of addiction and in most cases, extreme consequences must take place before help is sought.

Help for gambling

If you see yourself in this cycle of addiction to gambling and are ready to stop and surrender, I suggest that you get help from a trained counselor who can help restore what is left of your relationships. If you don’t have the finances for counseling, then you can join 12 step groups such as Gamblers Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery at a location near you. Here you can learn about your behavior and gain wisdom from those who have successful ahead of you.

I would to hear your story. If you can share your struggles and successes you might help others who read this.

About the author
Dr. Jackson received his Doctorate in Christian Counseling from Omega Bible Institute and Seminary in 2009. He developed the Christian recovery treatment programs for Calvary Rehab Center and the Genesis Center for Recovery. He has trained and practiced Christian Counseling in all areas of drug/alcohol/gambling/sex and relationship addictions. He currently has his own web based online program called 12 Day Rehab Systems, designed for those who can work on recovery while maintaining career and family obligations. Dr. Jackson has been clean and sober since 1984. Learn more about Recovery with Dr. Steve.


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  1. The issues involving gambling has been a popular topic amongst scholars for many years. At first glance gambling may seem unenchanting, however its study is a necessity for any one wishing to intellectually advance beyond their childhood. Until recently considered taboo amongst polite society, its influence on western cinema has not been given proper recognition.

  2. I disagree with GA and 12 steps being the only way for real recovery. CBT can work just as well and making big life changes to break the cycle can work on it’s own. The most important thing is you have to be ready to stop yourself, not just because everybody else points out that your life is a mess and that you need to stop. I think most people with any knowledge on the subject will acknowledge that recovery is a bespoke process and it’s about what works for you.

    I had already made attempts to stop, but losing over £60k ($100,000) in 3 years and the credibility of all those around me still wasn’t enough to beat the beast. For me it wasn’t until the physical symptoms really got hold of me that I recognized that I was slowly killing myself. Also I had a bit of a breakdown and my girlfriend left me at our flat for 3 weeks on my own. I knew then that it was crunch time and immense change was needed if I was to ever have any kind of quality of life again.

  3. I’ve been gambling free for just under 2 months and it is hard. I’m not getting any cravings to gamble but the thoughts and feeling that stream through me are very painful and frightening. I would agree that huge feelings of Shame are at the centre of it all. I’m struggling to come to terms with it but am seeking help. As hard as it is I take one day at a time and I come to terms with all the financial and non-financial losses and learn to live differently.

  4. True. GA is the ONLY way for recovery and freedom from gambling. Get into a 12 step program and do what they say and follow what others have done before you. Your life will be so so much better!!! God bless!


  5. Hi Kamy. Yes. There is a group in the U.S. called Gamblers Anonymous. They have online meetings. To find out more, Google the words “gamblers anonymous online meetings” and check out the results…then you can chat with people in real time on voice or text…and get help from people who have been through it and successfully stopped gamlbing.

  6. Hi Kamy. Thanks for reaching out to us. Can we help you in any way? Are you interested in finding gambling treatment so that you can stop?

  7. Dear friends,

    Its 5am local time in Africa and I’m again sitting sleepless after yesterday’s heavy losses on slots. Head is aching and palputation is at all time high again. I’m 47 yrs old. I started gambling 4 yrs ago and am yet to stop. Started on roulette, moved to cards and for the past 2 and a half years it is the slots. I’m self employed for this period and have a capacity to make about 75k to 100k USD a year. My current debts due to gambling are at USD 200k. I have kept the losses under wraps till now but have reached a situation where everything is gonna blow up in my face any moment now. My wife is aware of all this and has been with me all along hoping that I will come out when debts become zero. I also believe that if one of my large orders come thru I will pay off everybody and quit for good. I have two lovely daughters aged 9 and 11 yrs who love me so much. My dad passed away 15 yrs back. My mom, sister and brother love and respect me and think I can never do anything wrong in my life.

    I used to be long distance runner when in college and till 4 yrs ago used to look not a day older than 32. Now I look 10 yrs older, have stopped excercizing completely, drink and smoke heavily at casino. Have stopped enjoying day break, beach combing with children or any other recreation with them. While I have lost 200k, I have not taken out my family on holiday for the 4th consecutive year.

    I may still come out of the debts with either a small lottery or a big order but now when things are about to blow up, everybody will know where the money went and I will have no respect left.

    I’m dying. Slowly but surely. Quit gambling friends. Its not worth losing all this even if you hit a million some day. Your soul is already dead to enjoy it.

  8. I have reached the end of the line. I am writing this in an all night internet shop because I am homeless on the streets of Dublin. I had a good job but I let gambling take it all away, Yes I Let it ! I have lost everything chasing my losses including my job. I stole from my Employers who were good people and remortgaged my home several times just to gamble.
    I now have 9 euro in my pocket and all my belongings are in a bag at my feet. Dont think for a second that the “Next big win” will solve all my problems because it never comes or if it does you will gamble it again thinking you are on a lucky streak. Get help now. Thanks mark.
    Ps I will get out of this mess some day only if I dont gamble.

  9. Good luck, Paul.

    Jimmy, it sounds like you are looking for help to stop gambling and trying to compare your losses with other people. Have you lost enough money yet, or do you still want to gamble? Average amount is around 40K by the time that people seek help.

  10. HI I was just wondering how much you have lost I have lost quite a bit myself and I get some good returns and then some huge losses and go deeper in the whole

  11. Hi

    I am at this moment facing up to a gambling addiction that takes an interesting form.

    I am a financial advisor, and I’m addicted to day trading. I have lost, over the last 10 years… a lot of money. A number that I don’t want to talk about really, but it is almost everything.

    The shame is unbearable. I am taking steps now to get better and more importantly, to stop trading, but the regret and low self image that I have right now is hard to manage. I will be ok, but I have read that up to 45% of gambling addicts consider suicide. This is a remarkeable statistic but entirely believable. I can’t imagine any other addiction being as insidious and soul crushing.

    Thank you for your post, and wish me luck…

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