John Rundquist

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Counselor’s Corner is a recurring feature that discusses common questions raised by counselors seeking to learn more about problem gambling and how they can identify a possible gambling addiction in their clients. John Rundquist, gambling counselor for Crossroads Aftercare, addresses this column’s question.

Q. What is a simple screening tool I can use with a client who I suspect has a problem with gambling?
A. Fortunately, there are a number of well-researched screening tools that can be used to start the conversation about problem gambling with a client. Prior to describing these in detail, it is important for you to understand that you may be the first person who has asked your client directly about this issue. For some problem gamblers this could be very threatening, and you may run into a lot of resistance. However, if your client does have a gambling problem and is in a painful place due to their gambling, they may be relieved that someone will finally learn about their secret. The suicide rate for gamblers is very high, so your courage in asking about their gambling may be the thing that saves their life.
Below are two basic screening tools you can use to learn about a client’s gambling. Neither requires any special training on your part and they are simple to score.

1. Lie-Bet Screening Instrument (Johnson et al., 1988)

  1. Have you ever felt the need to bet more and more money?
  2. Have you ever had to lie to people important to you about how much you gambled?

Answering “Yes” to one or both questions strongly indicates that a professional addiction assessment is necessary.
Responding “No” to both questions indicates no referral or follow-up.

2. Brief Bio-social Gambling Screen (BBGS) (Gebauer, L., LaBrie, R. A., & Shaffer, H. J., 2010)

  1. During the past 12 months, have you become restless, irritable or anxious when trying to stop/cut down on gambling?    Yes    No
  2. During the past 12 months, have you tried to keep your family or friends from knowing how much you gambled?    Yes    No
  3. During the past 12 months, did you have such financial trouble that you had to get help from family or friends?    Yes    No

Answering “Yes” to one or more questions indicates likely pathological gambling. A professional gambling addiction assessment is necessary.

Source: Gebauer, L., LaBrie, R. A., & Shaffer, H. J. (2010). Optimizing DSM-IV classification accuracy: A brief bio-social screen for gambling disorders among the general household population. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 55(2), 82-90.

If your client answered “Yes” to any of the above questions, you or your client can call 1-800-333-HOPE to find a professional gambling counselor to discuss the next steps for assessment and treatment. If your client answered “No” to all of the screening questions, know that compulsive gamblers who are active in their addiction are talented manipulators and struggle to tell the truth. Corroborating information from a significant person in your client’s life can be very beneficial.