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NCRG-funded Screen for Gambling Disorders Now Available to the Public

by: Institute Staff | Apr 19, 2011

Have you ever been screened for a health problem? The answer is probably yes if you’ve ever been questioned by your doctor about symptoms or responded to a telephone survey about health. There are numerous screening instruments used by clinicians to determine if a client has a gambling problem, and some often appear in general population surveys to research the prevalence of the disorder. The Division of Addictions at Cambridge Health Alliance, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School, recently released the Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen (BBGS) to help people decide on their own whether to seek a formal evaluation of their gambling behavior.  Development of the screen was funded by the NCRG.

The Division on Addictions at Cambridge Health Alliance launched the BBGS on its website. This 3-item survey is based on the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) criteria for pathological gambling. The BBGS asks:

o   During the past 12 months, have you become restless, irritable or anxious when trying to stop/cut down on gambling?

o   During the past 12 months, have you tried to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you gambled?

o   During the past 12 months, did you have such financial trouble as a result of your gambling that you had to get help with living expenses from family, friends or welfare?

A “yes” answer to any of the questions means the person is at risk for developing a gambling problem. A confidential, personalized message is provided to help guide the person to consider seeking further evaluation.

The development of the BBGS is described in the scientific paper, “Optimizing DSM-IV-TR Classification Accuracy: A Brief Biosocial Screen for Detecting Current Gambling Disorders Among Gamblers in the General Household Population,” published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry last year (Gebauer et al., 2010). The authors derived the three questions from the results of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) a survey of 43,093 households which has yielded the largest sample of pathological gamblers. Their objective was to develop a screening instrument that would correctly identify the largest proportion of current pathological gamblers and exclude non-pathological gamblers (i.e., reduce the number of false positives). Another consideration was the length of the screen. A concise survey is easy to use in a clinical setting or for a self-assessment and can be easily incorporated into a general survey.

Out of the 10 possible criteria listed in the DSM-IV , the authors’ analysis found that the top three criteria for identifying pathological gambling patterns and avoiding false positives were withdrawal, lying about one’s gambling and borrowing money to gamble. The resulting BBGS questions focus on these criteria. A copy of this paper is available for download from the Division on Addictions website.

What do you think about the BBGS and other gambling screens? Please let us know in the Comments section below. The NCRG always welcomes your feedback.

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