New guidance released by the United Kingdom’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that there may be upside to asking people seeking mental health attention about their gambling habits.
Although this guidance is currently only in draft form, some believe it could play a major role in advancing gambling addiction treatment in the UK and even on a global scale.
UK Recommends New Gambling Addiction Guidance
Much like general practitioners ask patients about alcohol, drugs, and smoking habits when a mental health concern is present, a new report recommends UK doctors also ask about a patient’s gambling habits.
This NICE guidance — conducted by an independent committee of medical professionals and those with first-person problem gambling experience — is open for review until Nov. 15.
Using available data, the committee’s suggestions aim to pinpoint the most effective, budget-friendly treatment plans and recovery options for clinics to implement.
Ultimately, these recommendations are intended to help people identify gambling problems and aid National Health Service clinics in providing the best available services.
Guidance Has Special Suggestions For Those At Greater Risk Of Gambling Harm
People who present addiction-related mental health concerns are at greater risk of gambling harm, according to NICE. These mental health concerns can include anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and psychotic behavior. As a result, the guidance suggests doctors discuss problem gambling behavior with such patients at increased risk, including those with particular neurological conditions or taking certain medications.
The report offers special directives for those in the criminal justice system, suggesting practitioners ask about their gambling habits during each visit. These include police, probation officers, court officials, and the like.
NICE says this should also be the case for doctors working with the homeless, the financially insecure, and anyone with a family history of addiction.
Doctors can also prescribe the anti-addiction medication Naltrexone, which is traditionally prescribed to those with an addiction to alcohol or painkillers and works by blocking cravings.
Healthcare Professionals Can Play Critical Role In Addiction Prevention
This guidance comes at a time when a record number of people are turning to UK health services for gambling addiction aid. The NHS said referrals have skyrocketed by 65% since 2021.
To answer those pleas, NHS England has opened four new specialist clinics in recent months and plans to open three more by the end of the year, allowing them to treat up to 3,000 people at their 15 facilities annually.
NHS Mental Health Director Claire Murdoch said that although the organization is eager to implement improvements, the industry, too, must do its part in protecting players.
“While this new guidance will ensure the NHS can help even more people struggling with gambling addiction to receive evidenced-based treatment, it is vital that the billion-pound industry also takes action in line with the government’s white paper to stop people coming to harm in the first place.”
Gambling Addiction Progress In The US
Although this new UK guidance doesn’t apply to the U.S., it offers optimism for the American market nonetheless.
Currently, the U.S. doesn’t have a national organization designated for implementing stronger responsible gambling standards across the industry. Much like its accented ancestors in the UK, America operates an entirely self-regulated gambling industry.
In the US, problem gamblers can reach out to the national gambling hotline 1-800-GAMBLER. From there, callers are directed to specific gambling addiction resources based on their location. Many locations, however, fall significantly short of available resources or lack them altogether.
Treatment, research, and funding initiatives have expanded significantly since 2013, now that the American Psychiatric Association finally recognizes gambling disorders as a behavioral addiction. Medical professionals have been slow on the uptake.
Because of this, doctors are traditionally ill-educated on the issue and unaware of appropriate treatment paths. Rather than risking malpractice, they simply choose not to ask patients about potential gambling problems in the first place.
For now, the effort falls squarely on the shoulders of 1-800-GAMBLER and state-specific gambling hotlines to identify problem gamblers and guide them to the appropriate recovery resources.
If the evolution of the UK’s gambling industry is any indication, it could be years before the US considers requiring doctors ask patients about their gambling habits when they present mental health concerns.