Background: Internet-based interventions targeted at the most at-risk gamblers could reduce the treatment gap for addictive disorders. Currently, no clinical trial has included non-treatment-seeking patients who have been recruited directly in their gambling environment. This study was the first exclusively Internet-based randomized controlled trial among non-help-seeking problem gamblers with naturalistic recruitment in their gambling environment.
Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the efficacy of three modalities of Internet-based psychotherapies with or without guidance, compared to a control condition, among problem gamblers who play online poker.
Methods: All active poker gamblers on the Winamax website were systematically offered screening. All problem poker gamblers identified with a Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) score of ≥ 5 were eligible to be included in the trial. Problem gamblers were randomized into four groups: (1) waiting list (control group), (2) personalized normalized feedback on their gambling status by email, (3) an email containing a self-help book to be downloaded with a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) program without guidance, and (4) the same CBT program emailed weekly by a trained psychologist with personalized guidance. Efficacy was assessed based on the change in PGSI between baseline and 6 weeks (end of treatment) or 12 weeks (maintenance) and supported by player account-based gambling data automatically collected at the three time points.
Results: All groups met high attrition rates (83%), but the group with guidance had a significantly higher dropout rate than the other three groups, including the control group. Although all groups showed some improvement, with a mean decrease of 1.35 on the PGSI, no significant difference in efficacy between the groups was observed. One-third of the problem gamblers fell below the problem gambling threshold at 6 weeks.
Conclusions: Guidance could have aversively affected problem gamblers who had not sought help. Despite the lack of significant difference in efficacy between groups, this naturalistic trial provides a basis for the development of future Internet-based trials in individuals with gambling disorders. Comorbidities, natural course of illness, and intrinsic motivation seem to be critical issues to consider in future designs.
Trial registration: ANSM 2013-A00794-41.
Keywords: brief intervention; guidance; internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy; internet-based randomized controlled trial; non-help seeking; poker; problem gambling.