The present study examined the nature and impact of participant goal selection (abstinence versus moderation) in brief motivational treatment for pathological gambling via secondary analyses from a randomized controlled trial. The results demonstrated that the pattern of goal selection over time could be characterized by both fluidity and stability, whereby almost half of participants switched their goal at least one time, over 25 % of participants selected an unchanging goal of ‘quit most problematic type of gambling’, almost 20 % selected an unchanging goal of ‘quit all types of gambling’, and approximately 10 % selected an unchanging goal of ‘gamble in a controlled manner.
The results also demonstrated that pretreatment goal selection was uniquely associated with three variables, whereby compared to participants who selected the goal to ‘cut back on problem gambling’, those who selected the goal to ‘quit problem gambling’ were more likely to have greater gambling problem severity, to have identified video lottery terminal play as problematic, and to have greater motivation to overcome their gambling problem. Finally, the results demonstrated that goal selection over time had an impact on the average number of days gambled over the course of treatment, whereby those with abstinence-based goals gambled significantly fewer days than those with moderation-based goals. Nevertheless, goal selection over time was not related to dollars gambled, dollars per day gambled, or perceived goal achievement. The findings do not support the contention that abstinence-based goals are more advantageous than moderation goals and are discussed in relation to the broader alcohol treatment literature.