Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Quick questionnaires can flag, help problem gamblers, study says

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TORONTO -- Compulsive gambling may be a complex and challenging issue to live with, but a Calgary researcher suggests solutions for identifying and treating the problem don't have to be.

University of Calgary psychology professor David Hodgins says short questionnaires, sometimes consisting of just three "yes or no" queries, can often be enough to flag problem gamblers and help get them started on the road to recovery.

Hodgins' conclusions are included in an article, to be published in The Lancet medical journal, which summarizes some of the latest research in the field of gambling treatment.

Hodgins is calling on professionals who work with potential problem gamblers to make use of these simple tools more often.

"Training practitioners in different sectors to be able to do brief, quick and easy screening for gambling problems would be very helpful," Hodgins said in a telephone interview from Calgary, adding the questionnaire could be used by professionals ranging from bankers to doctors.

One such screening tool features only three questions designed to identify the severity of a person's gambling activity. Subjects are asked if they have ever tried to cut down or control their gambling, if they have ever lied to family members about the extent of their gambling, and if they have ever spent long periods of time thinking about or planning gambling activities.

"If individuals answer positively to any one of those items, then that's a pretty good indicator that there's a problem, and a suggestion that they may want to talk further with someone about their gambling issue is warranted," Hodgins said.

Such a conversation could lead prospective patients to seek treatment resources they may not have been aware of, he said.

Nina Littman-Sharp, manager of the problem gambling service at the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, agrees simple prescreens could be a useful tool, but cautions that they are not to be confused with a formal assessment or diagnosis.

Mental-health professional with specific expertise in problem gambling are best equipped to identify people who are in need of treatment and recommend potential solutions, she said.

The questionnaires could still perform a valuable service to both individuals and the health-care system, she said, adding they could prevent certain gamblers from sinking too far into addiction.

Hodgins and Littman-Sharp believe treatment options need not involve years of intensive therapy, saying such approaches are suitable for only the most extreme cases.

Hodgins says only one per cent of Canadians can be described as "pathological gamblers," with an additional one to two per cent falling into the category of "problem gamblers."

For those with less serious issues, Hodgins says, treatment administered over the phone or through online tools could be effective.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 24, 2011 D1

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