BACKGROUND: With the legalization of new forms of gambling there are increasing numbers of individuals who appear to have gambling related problems and who are seeking help. The individual and societal consequences are significant. Pathological gambling can result in the gambler jeopardizing or losing a significant relationship or job and committing criminal offences. Pathological gamblers may develop general medical conditions associated with stress. Increased rates have been reported for mood disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, substance abuse or dependence. There is a high risk of suicide and a high correlation with antisocial, narcissistic and borderline personality disorders and alcohol addiction. With increasing public awareness of gambling related problems health funders and practitioners are asking questions about the efficacy of treatments. Consequently quality research into gambling treatment is crucial. OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review was to complete a systematic review and meta-analysis of all randomised controlled trials (RCTs) of psychological and pharmacological treatments for pathological gambling, from both published and unpublished scientific reports. SEARCH STRATEGY: Published and unpublished RCTs of treatments of pathological gambling were identified by searches of electronic databases and hand searching journals likely to contain RCTs of gambling treatments. Researchers and gambling treatment centres were contacted by letter. Bibliographies of all identified research studies were scanned to identify other relevant references. SELECTION CRITERIA: All RCTs of treatments for pathological gambling were eligible for inclusion. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: The data was entered into the Cochrane Review Manager software (REVMAN). The component RCTs were quality rated, with special emphasis on the concealment of treatment allocation and blinding. Relative risk analyses were conducted for the dichotomous outcome of controlled vs. uncontrolled gambling. The relative risks were aggregated using both fixed and random effects models. Tests for heterogeneity were undertaken. Both short-term (1 month or less) and long-term (6 months or longer) outcomes were considered. MAIN RESULTS: Only four RCTs of psychological treatments were identified. These RCTs were heterogeneous in terms of design, interventions, outcome measurement and follow-up periods. All had small numbers of participants. The studies had poor methodological quality features. The experimental interventions, behavioural or cognitive-behavioural therapy (BT/CBT), were more efficacious than the control interventions in the short-term (relative risk 0.44, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.24-0.81). There was a trend for long-term treatment with BT/CBT to be more efficacious than the control treatments, but the statistical significance of this was sensitive to the statistical model used for meta-analysis. With a fixed effect model the relative risk was 0.56 (95% CI 0.33-0.95); the relative risk with a random effects model was 0.61 (95% CI 0.25-1.47). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: This systematic review revealed a paucity of evidence for effective treatment of pathological gambling. As gambling is becoming more accessible in many countries and there is epidemiological evidence of increasing rates of pathological gambling, more rigorous RCTs are required.
Oakley-Browne, M., Adams, P., & Mobberley, P. (2000). Interventions for pathological gambling. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd001521.pub2