One-question screening tool for gamblers

3 minute read

GPs are often surprised by how many of their patients gamble, say researchers. There's a very simple way to find out.

Australians are the world’s biggest losers when it comes to betting, but problem gamblers can fly under the radar in primary care.

The good news is that there’s a validated, one-item screening tool to help pick up people who might have a gambling addiction or who might be affected by someone else’s addiction.

It’s a simple question: in the last 12 months, have you had an issue with gambling?

It was put through a randomised control trial which demonstrated it had a 92% detection rate for identifying gambling harm over a decade ago, but was only approved as an accepted clinical resource by the RACGP earlier this year.

Aussies lose about $1200 per person per year to gambling – the highest per capita amount in the world – and that figure has gone up every year for the last 25 years bar three.

Victoria alone is estimated to lose around $7 billion to gambling every year when combining the spend on pokies, racing, casino, lotteries and Keno.

Speaking at the WONCA GP conference in Sydney at the weekend, gambling counsellor Tony Clarkson, principal clinical advisor to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, told delegates that he’ll often hear from general practices that they don’t typically ask patients about gambling.

“And then when we ask them [to humour us] and ask about gambling, we come back in a couple of months and … they almost always say, ‘oh, my God, we were totally amazed by the amount of people who said they do gamble,’” Mr Clarkson said.

Usually, he said, people only present for help with gambling of their own volition when it is at the point of affecting other aspects of life – in other words, when it’s already become a problem.

Around 11% of suicides in Victoria since 2010 have been related to gambling, according to Mr Clarkson.

“We are probably 20 or 25 years behind in our understanding of mental health … with gambling in terms of how much it can harm people and then the impact it can have on families, individuals and communities,” he said.

RACGP addiction medicine chair Dr Hester Wilson, who presented at WONCA alongside Mr Clarkson, said that encouraging people to seek help for gambling could be a long process, which is what made GP involvement so vital.

“As GPs, we have these longer-term therapeutic alliances with people over time, where they do trust us,” she told delegates.

“We can keep that door open for if they want help with it in the future, and that’s fantastic.”

There are a range of options for patients who do have problem gambling – each state has a dedicated, free gambler’s help service, and financial counsellors are also a valid referral pathway.

WONCA was held in Sydney from 26-29 October. 

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