Signs of a gambling addiction and how to find help

For most gamblers, gambling is a recreational activity that never results in serious problems. For others, excessive gambling becomes an irresistible compulsion and addiction that destroys families, financially and emotionally.

According to the National Council of Problem Gambling (NCPG), the compulsive gambler typically follows a three-phase progression.

Phase 1: The Winning Phase 

The first phase is the Winning Phase, in which the gambler experiences a big win, which in turn boosts self-esteem. The result is an increase in the frequency of the gambling and the amount wagered. Unreasonable optimism develops as the gambler fantasizes about winning.

Phase 2: The Losing Phase 

Next is the Losing Phase. It occurs when the luck starts to run out and the gambler begins losing money. During this period, thoughts turn exclusively to gambling and winning. Relationships become strained as the gambler gradually loses control. He begins covering up his gambling and starts borrowing money from friends, family, and credit cards.

Phase 3: The Desperation Phase 

The last phase is the Desperation Phase. By this time, the gambler can no longer pay debts and starts looking for quick fixes. An obsession with making up for past losses develops. Time spent on gambling is affecting work and family, and there are usually feelings of remorse and hopelessness. Loss of personal and business reputation is accompanied by depression.

One of the most serious measurable problems caused by gambling is debt.

Finding help for a gambling addiction and the resulting debt

Fortunately, help is available. The first and most important hurdle for a compulsive gambler is to deal with the gambling compulsion. The NCPG’s nation-wide, toll-free number is 800.522.4700, and they will refer anyone seeking help to a support organization. As with any compulsive behavior, it takes some effort to beat an addiction to gambling, and it all starts with the initial phone call.

At the same time, the individual will have to address the debt problem. Typically, a large portion of the debt comes from cash advances on credit cards, usually at high interest rates. Nonprofit credit counselors are trained to intervene with creditors and guide clients through a manageable, effective debt-repayment program. 

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

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  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.