The COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on society has been suspected to affect gambling behaviors. Potentially, the pandemic crisis may result in increased problem gambling, for example, due to COVID-19-related psychological distress, unemployment, and financial difficulties. In addition, the cancellation of sports in early parts of the crisis has been suspected to alter gambling behaviors. Policy makers have called for action and, in some cases, have changed regulations, and media have reported possible increases in treatment seeking. However, research data are hitherto lacking. The present study assessed the treatment uptake at a regional specialized gambling-disorder unit in the healthcare system of Region Skåne, Sweden. Number of patients, treatment contacts, and patterns of rescheduling or cancellations of appointments were quantified for each month, January-December 2020, and compared to corresponding months of 2018 and 2019. Possible trends were analyzed, using an interrupted time-series analysis. Results did not indicate an increase in treatment uptake for gambling disorder during the months of COVID-19 impact in Sweden. The proportion of digital treatment increased, but total treatment uptake was unaffected by the pandemic. In conclusion, during the first ten months of the pandemic in Sweden, no obvious increase in treatment uptake for gambling disorder could be seen. Moreover, longer follow-up may be necessary in order to see if effects of worsening socioeconomic conditions may be a possible long-term risk factor of increased gambling after COVID-19.
Keywords: COVID-19; gambling disorder; pandemic; problem gambling; treatment seeking.