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Study Examines the Best Way to Screen College Students for Gambling Disorders

by: Institute Staff | Apr 5, 2011

Measuring addictive behaviors accurately is very difficult. Among the many complications are recruiting subjects, relying on their memory and self-report and quantifying the difference between pathological actions and actions that are merely unusual or uncommon. (Jerome Wakefield, Ph.D., discussed this topic in detail at the NCRG conference 2010.) One particularly difficult aspect of studying addiction is the diagnostic screening instrument (when scored, the instrument shows whether or not a person should be diagnosed with a particular disorder). Diagnostic screens of all kinds pose the problem of advancement versus consistency: It is always possible to make a newer and better instrument, but a new instrument means that studies conducted with the older one cannot be directly compared to studies conducted with the new instrument. This tension dictates that new instruments must be shown as better along several lines to make them worth implementing. Two researchers at the forefront of this discussion for gambling disorders are Erica Fortune and Adam Goodie, Ph.D., at the University of Georgia. Fortune and Goodie recently published a study, partly funded by a grant from the NCRG to Dr. Goodie, that compares the performance of two diagnostic screens in a population of college students (Fortune & Goodie, 2010).   

The researchers compared two gambling screens, the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS) (Lesieur & Blume, 1987) and the Diagnostic Interview for Gambling Severity-S (DIGS-S) (Winters & Stinchfield, 1996). The SOGS was published in 1987 and is the most-used screening instrument for gambling disorders. (In a recent blog reviewing the 10 most cited gambling research papers of all time, the SOGS paper was number one). The DIGS-S is a more recent screen with questions that mirror the diagnostic criteria for pathological gambling in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The DIGS-S was derived from the original Diagnostic Interview for Gambling Severity (DIGS) that was designed for clinicians to diagnose patients in clinical settings.

To test the two instruments, the researchers recruited 72 undergraduate students who self-identified as frequent gamblers. The participants were given both instruments three times over the course of two months. This allowed the participants’ scores on each screen to be compared to each other and to their previous score on the same scale (a common method for validating diagnostic instruments). The results showed that while both screens performed well, the DIGS-S was more reliable over the three administrations than the SOGS. Coupling this finding with the ease with which the DIGS-S is given to college students via computer, the DIGS-S appears to be a valid alternative to the SOGS for studying disordered gambling in college populations.           

More information on the article is available on the website of the Journal of Gambling Studies. Do you have thoughts or questions about problem gambling research or diagnosing gambling problems? Are you a college student and are looking for more information? Please visit or start a conversation in the Comments section below.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). DSM-IV: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Fortune, E. E., & Goodie, A. S. (2010). Comparing the utility of a modified Diagnostic Interview for Gambling Severity (DIGS) with the South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS) as a research screen in college students. Journal of Gambling Studies / Co-Sponsored by the National Council on Problem Gambling and Institute for the Study of Gambling and Commercial Gaming, 26(4), 639-644. doi:10.1007/s10899-010-9189-x

Lesieur, H. R., & Blume, S. B. (1987). The South Oaks Gambling Screen (SOGS): A new instrument for the identification of pathological gamblers. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144(9), 1184-8.

Winters, K. C., & Stinchfield, R. D. (1996). Diagnostic Interview for Gambling severtiy (DIGS). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Medical School.

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