FRIDAY, April 15, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Gamblers Anonymous helps people with gambling problems, and it's even more effective when used along with other treatments, researchers report.
In a new review, investigators analyzed data from 17 studies published between 2002 and 2015 that examined problem gambling. The research included data on various aspects of problem gambling, and on treatments such as Gamblers Anonymous, a 12-step program based on peer support and shared desire to stop gambling.
"Gamblers Anonymous is one of the most cost-effective and easily accessible resources for individuals living with problem gambling issues," said study author Flora Matheson. She is a medical sociologist at the Center for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Canada.
"However, despite the widespread use of Gamblers Anonymous, there has been little research exploring its effectiveness as a recovery approach, and those that have are largely inconsistent," she said in a hospital news release. "We looked at the available data to identify gaps in knowledge and offer some insight for future focuses of study."
Joining Gamblers Anonymous led to higher rates of gambling abstinence, fewer gambling symptoms and better quality of life, the researchers reported. This was especially true when it was combined with other treatments, such as stress management training and cognitive behavioral therapy.
In stress management training, people learn about coping methods, breathing techniques and muscle relaxation. And cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychological counseling where people learn to change negative thinking patterns and behaviors, the study authors explained.
Previous research has found that many problem gamblers also abuse drugs or alcohol, or have other mental health issues that stem from a traumatic experience, Matheson said.
"Gamblers Anonymous remains a viable and accessible option for people with problem gambling, but its effectiveness alone as a treatment option needs to be evaluated comprehensively to determine any gaps and improve care for these individuals," Matheson said.
Problem gambling affects between 3 percent and 6 percent of people, but the rate is much higher among those with low incomes, the study authors said.
The study was published April 5 in the Journal of Gambling Studies.
The National Council on Problem Gambling has more about gambling addiction.