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Barriers to Treatment for Problem Gamblers in Ontario

D Hodgins1, T Toneatto2, J Cunningham3, J Cordingley4

1University of Calgary, 2Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 3Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 4Centre for Addiction and Mental Health


Why do many problem gamblers never seek treatment? The issue is important because there are a number of effective treatments for problem gamblers, yet only about one in ten gamblers with a lifetime diagnosis of gambling dependence ever seek treatment.

The primary goal of this study was to identify the real and perceived barriers to treatment for Ontario problem gamblers. This primary goal was divided into several objectives:

  1. Identify the barriers that problem gamblers experience against seeking treatment.
  2. Conduct a systematic assessment of the types of help problem gamblers have sought to deal with their gambling concerns.
  3. Explore interest in different types of treatment services (i.e., are problem gamblers more interested in face-to-face, telephone, mailed, or online services?).
  4. Identify the conditions under which problem gamblers feel that they might seek treatment.
  5. Explore the general public’s attitudes towards problem gambling and its treatment.

A population survey was conducted of 8,467 adults in Canada. A brief screener interview administered to all respondents identified 1,205 respondents who had some level of gambling problems at some point in their lives (730 respondents had some past year concerns; 68 respondents met criteria as possible or probable pathological gamblers in the past year). Among current problem gamblers, the primary barrier to seeking treatment identified was that many problem gamblers do not think they have a problem. Only 47% of those with possible or probable pathological gambling status thought they had even a moderate problem with their gambling. Other barriers identified included issues of shame, embarrassment, and denial (not wanting to admit having a problem). These same barriers have been identified in previous research on barriers to seeking treatment, but the extent to which problem gamblers do not regard their behaviour as a problem could only be clearly demonstrated by recruiting a representative sample from the general population. Of concern as another barrier to seeking treatment was the finding that half of problem gamblers could not imagine a problem that would lead them to seek treatment if they experienced it.


Suurvali, H., Hodgins, D.C., & Cunningham, J.A. (under review). Motivators for resolving or seeking help for gambling problems: a review of the empirical literature.

Suurvali, H., Hodgins, D.C., Cordingley, J., & Cunningham, J.A. (under review). Barriers to seeking help for gambling problems: a review of the empirical literature.

Cunningham, J.A., Hodgins, D.C., & Toneatto, T. (in press). Natural history of gambling problems: Results from a general population survey. Sucht.

Suurvali, H., Hodgins, D.C., Toneatto, T., & Cunningham, J.A. (2008). Treatment-seeking among Ontario problem gamblers: results of a population survey. Psychiatric Services. 59, 1343-1346.

Cunningham, J.A., Hodgins, D.C., & Toneatto, T. (2008). Interest in different types of self-help services for problem gamblers. Psychiatric Services. 59, 695-696.