September 22nd, 2011

New gambling e-tool unveiled

A new e-tool is said to be a breakthrough for the screening and intervention of gambling-related problems.

The Division on Addictions at the Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, this spring rolled out a free online screening and intervention device that they say is the first extremely brief online gambling screen for current gambling-related problems to provide targeted brief interventions.

The three-item Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen is based on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders criteria for pathological gambling. Individuals complete the anonymous, three-item screen, which then provides a brief intervention and information tailored to the person’s potential risk and readiness to change their behavior.

Anyone – including organizations and medical professionals – can link to the Gambling e-Screener and Intervention System (http://www.divisiononaddictions.org/bbgs_new/) or may contact the division to obtain a free version of the original code for the system.

Debi LaPlante, Ph.D., assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and associate director of the division, says the e-tool is both sensitive and specific enough to provide individuals and health care professionals information that could indicate whether the person is experiencing or at risk for a gambling disorder.

Accessing health information online is gaining popularity and is a first line for many people, LaPlante says. “By providing a resource like this, individuals either could get the help that they need – maybe they only need a little bit of instruction that they can get online – or maybe it will send them to a place where they can get more detailed information and counseling or help, if that’s what their situation requires.”

The screen’s brevity may increase the likelihood a person will participate and aids practitioners with limited time and resources. “This will really allow people to understand whether or not perhaps a red flag should be thrown up and if there is, perhaps they should seek out a more detailed diagnostic process,” LaPlante says.

Marlene D. Warner, MA, executive director of the Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling, says she likes that the screen is quick. “One of the things we’ve heard for years from clinicians is, ‘We have to screen for so many things, how are we supposed to integrate another screen for gambling?’”

In addition to its brevity, “What’s nice about this is that this is really evidence-based screen specific to gambling,” she says.

The screen also assesses a person’s “readiness” to pursue change. “For people who do screen in and indicate based on our screens that they might not be as ready as other people, research suggests that providing some very basic information and pointing people to additional resources might be appropriate,” LaPlante says. “For other people who dictate they are very ready for change, you want to provide some more concrete resources and potential avenues for making those changes.

“Different people have different needs… If you don’t meet people where they are, you can turn them off from where they need to go.”

The National Council on Problem Gambling links to the e-tool on its Web site. Keith Whyte, executive director, says, “We especially like that it’s based on stages of change principles that help people assess where their gambling is at the moment and helps guide them through that stage of change process.”

Warner says gambling disorder/pathological gambling still carries a lot of stigma. By offering the screen online, people can learn more, in a discreet manner.

“One of the things we’ve seen over the past five years or so is that our help line calls have gone down, but hits to our online help pages have gone up tremendously.” she says.

By Pamela Berard

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