Society For The Study Of Addiction

Natural recovery from gambling problems

[This presentation was first made to the SSA Annual Symposium 2008].



Dr David Hodgins

Senior Editor

David C. Hodgins, Ph.D., is a professor in the Program in Clinical Psychology in the Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, Canada. Dr. Hodgins is also a coordinator with the Alberta Gaming Research Institute. His research interests focus on various aspects of addictive behaviours including relapse and recovery from substance abuse and gambling disorders. He has developed a brief treatment for gambling problems that uses a motivational enhancement model, and research examining its efficacy is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The treatment model is recognized as a promising treatment by the United States Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration. In 2006, he received the Annual Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling.  Dr. Hodgins teaches in the clinical psychology program and has an active cadre of graduate students. He maintains a private practice in Calgary in addition to providing consultation to a number of organizations internationally.

Aims: With the legalization and increased promotion of gambling opportunities in many jurisdictions around the world has come a need to understand the process of recovery from gambling problems. Research on natural or non-treatment-assisted recovery will be reviewed.
Methods: Two types of research designs have been used in natural recovery research, representative community surveys and media-recruited samples of recovered pathological gamblers. The research to date will be reviewed including published and unpublished data. Intervention studies designed to promote self-recovery, based upon these findings, will also be described briefly.
Results: Community prevalence surveys reveal that about 40% of individuals reporting a lifetime pathological gambling disorder report no problems in the past year. Most of these individuals also report no treatment involvement, suggesting that they are naturally recovered. Research conducted on samples of convenience, recovered and non-recovered pathological gamblers recruited through media advertisements, reveals that financial and emotional factors precipitate recovery and that recovered gamblers report using practical, cognitive-behavioural recovery strategies (e.g., stimulus control). A third approach to research on natural recovery involves using representative community surveys to confirm the results of samples from samples of convenience. Recent data from a Canadian survey will be presented. Finally, the results from two clinical trials of a brief motivational intervention designed to promote self-recovery show good effects for individuals not wanting formal treatment.
Conclusions: The process of natural recovery appears broadly similar to natural recovery from other addictive behaviours such as alcohol and other drugs. This research has begun to inform our interventions for this disorder with the goal of broadening the options for individuals struggling with their gambling involvements.