In Australia today over half a million people are either problem gamblers or at risk of gambling addiction.
Over 70% of Australians participate in some form of gambling each year, but the effects of problem gambling in Australia are profound with the financial cost alone borne by the Australian community at large totalling $4.7 billion annually.
But the cost of problem gambling is more than simply financial. An average of 7 people immediately around the problem gambler (such as partners, children, parents, colleagues and friends) are directly and adversely affected by their actions.
These numbers clearly demonstrate that treatment of problem gambling is of real importance to Australia’s future; with research showing problem gamblers are more likely to have co-morbid depression and anxiety, problems with alcohol and to smoke on a daily basis and the children of problem gamblers are up to 10 times more likely than the children of non-gambling parents to become problem gamblers themselves.
Because of its often hidden nature, gambling addiction is challenging to treat with only 10% of problem gamblers seeking help.
Research into new treatment methods at the Flinders Centre for Gambling Research is helping to reduce the risk of relapse and improve the outcomes using psychological therapy.
Established in May 2010 with a research focus into gambling disorders among individuals attending the South Australian Statewide Gambling Therapy Service for treatment, the Flinders Centre for Gambling Research is an international leader in the research and design of programs to combat problem gambling.
The Statewide Gambling Therapy Service has contact with over 700 individual problem gamblers each year together with their partners or support persons. This wealth of treatment contacts has enabled the development of a comprehensive data collection and management system engaged in longitudinal tracking of treated individuals.
Working with the Statewide Gambling Therapy Service has provided critical data that allows the Flinders Centre for Gambling Research to develop the internationally recognised evidence-based approach for gambling-specific cognitive-behavioural therapy.
The gambling-specific cognitive behavioural therapy approach developed by the Flinders Centre for Gambling Research works on two levels: structured exposure therapy reduces the ‘thrill’ or compulsion experienced when the stimulus is present and cognitive restructuring gives the person undergoing the treatment a scaffold for correcting their erroneous/inaccurate gambling related beliefs that leads to positive, rather than negative, outcomes.
In the financial year 2014/2015, over 70% of individuals who completed the Flinders-designed treatment program also recovered from gambling disorder.
Further refining this approach, the Flinders Centre for Gambling Research recently concluded a world first randomised controlled trial, comparing the effectiveness of pure cognitive therapy and pure exposure-based therapy.
Research demonstrates that combining the two approaches improves participant retention and treatment outcomes over either approach alone.
The trial provides a view to further refining the treatment programme to increase treatment uptake and reduce drop-out rates by providing more flexible therapy programs that can be tailored at the individual level. This systematic pathway to developing gambling treatment is in line with the evolution of cognitive-behavioural therapy in other psychological disorders such as depression.
The Flinders Centre for Gambling Research is at the forefront of gambling treatment research nationally and internationally. They are a partner in the Family Violence and Problem Gambling Study with Melbourne University and are working with Deakin University to develop online treatment options for people with gambling disorders together with the development of treatment options for Aboriginal people with problem gambling and co-morbid conditions.
The Centre identifies the investigation of barriers to help-seeking, and strategies family and friends can implement to help motivate problem gamblers to seek help as a major research challenge for the community. Starting work on new research in the area, the Centre is developing an evidence-based program for friends and relatives of problem gamblers who are resistant to seeking help.
With the seemingly unstoppable rise of pokies (the ‘crack cocaine’ of the gambling industry) and online app-based sports betting in Australia, the many-faceted impact of problem gambling will continue to grow.
In response to both the success of its approach and growing community demand, the Flinders Centre for Gambling Research is working to publish a guided self-help manual for people who would normally seek help from a face-to-face service.
For more information contact Professor Malcolm Battersby.