A randomized controlled trial of brief interventions for problem gambling in substance abuse treatment patients


Objective: This study evaluated the efficacy of brief gambling treatments in patients attending substance abuse treatment clinics.

Method: Substance abuse treatment patients with gambling problems (N = 217) were randomly assigned to a 10- to 15-min brief psychoeducation gambling intervention; a 10- to 15-min brief advice intervention addressing gambling norms, risk factors, and methods to prevent additional problems; or 4 50-min sessions of motivational enhancement therapy plus cognitive behavior therapy for reducing gambling (MET + CBT). Gambling and related problems were assessed at baseline and throughout 24 months.

Results: In the sample as a whole, days and dollars wagered and gambling problems decreased markedly from baseline through Month 5; thereafter, reductions in dollars wagered and gambling problems continued to decrease modestly but significantly, and days gambled remained constant. Brief advice significantly reduced days gambled between baseline and Month 5 relative to brief psychoeducation. The MET + CBT condition engendered no benefit beyond brief advice in terms of days gambled but did lead to more precipitous reductions in dollars gambled and problems experienced in the initial 5 months, and greater clinically significant improvements in gambling in both the short and long term. MET + CBT also resulted in initial decreases in self-reported alcohol use and problems but did not differentially impact self-reported illicit drug use or submission of positive samples.

Conclusions: Gambling problems tend to dissipate over time regardless of the intervention applied, but offering MET + CBT was more efficacious in decreasing gambling than providing a brief single session intervention.

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