Computer Program Could Help Reduce Gambling Problems Among College Students

By May Wilkerson 04/17/15

Compulsive gambling continues to be a rising problem on campus.

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A computer program offering personalized feedback could help reduce problem gambling among college students, according to a new study.

Gambling is a rising problem on college campuses, with more than 1.6 million college-aged adults reportedly qualifying for a gambling problem. The habit can cause damage to relationships, finances, and mental and physical health, experts say. But individual counseling, although proven effective, can be costly and time consuming.

Researchers at the University of Missouri tested three forms of intervention among 333 college-aged adults with varying degrees of a gambling problem. One group was given general information about the effects of problem gambling; another group was not given any information; and a third group was provided with individualized feedback from a computer based on their answers to survey questions. The questions pertained to their gambling behaviors, such as how often they gamble, how much they wager, and what problems they have experienced as a result.

Three months after the initial interventions, researchers found that the individuals who had received computer-generated feedback had experienced a significant decline in problem gambling behavior compared to the other two groups.

Lead researcher Dr. Matt Martens, professor of counseling psychology at the University, said the questions and individualized feedback are helpful because many students are not aware that they might have a problem.

“They may think that they are gambling at the same rate as their peers, when that’s really not the case,” said Martens. “That’s where these types of programs can help because individuals receive an unbiased, personalized assessment that shows them the social norms of their gambling activity and how they compare.”

The program is not intended as a substitution for counseling, but as a preventative measure to encourage young problem gamblers to recognize the problem before it grows worse and potentially inflicts long-term damage.

“Typically, younger problem gamblers are not interested in seeking help,” said Martens. “While their behavior might not be at a significant risk level yet, this tool would allow them to receive an assessment without talking directly to a counselor.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.