Cold Turkey Vs. Warm Turkey? New Research On Recovery Without Abstinence

Conventional wisdom assumes that individuals with gambling problems must quit “cold turkey” and abstain from gambling in order to achieve recovery. However, a newarticle in the journalAddictionreports on individuals who are recovering from a gambling disorder without abstaining from all gambling activities (Slutske, Piasecki, Blaszczynski, & Martin, 2010). This study of Australian twins examined the behavior of a representative cross-section of the population, and not just people in treatment for gambling disorders. Population surveys like the one used in this study are useful for understanding how recovery occurs, as roughly 80 percent of people who recover from a gambling disorder do so without any kind of formal treatment (Slutske, 2006). This type of research is particularly noteworthy because much of what is known about people with gambling disorders has come from studies of people in formal treatment programs.

In the study sample of 4,764 people, 90 percent of the 44 recovered disordered gamblers had participated in some type of gambling during the past year. This finding is striking because it suggests that controlled gambling is not only possible for those with disordered gambling, but the norm for the majority of recovered pathological gamblers in this sample. The authors suggest that this finding may be good news for gambling treatment providers because programs that strive for “controlled gambling” instead of abstinence may attract people who otherwise would not consider attending more traditional, abstinence-based treatment programs. Also, once in treatment, a person may decide that abstinence really is the best choice, a conclusion that 39 percent of participants reached in a recent treatment study that offered controlled gambling as a starting goal(Ladouceur, Lachance, & Fournier, 2009).

More information on the article inAddictionis available onthe journal’s website. What are your thoughts about “warm turkey” versus “cold turkey”? Tell us in the Comments section below.


Ladouceur, R., Lachance, S., & Fournier, P. (2009). Is control a viable goal in the treatment of pathological gambling?Behaviour Research and Therapy,47(3), 189-197. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2008.11.004

Slutske, W. S. (2006). Natural recovery and treatment-seeking in pathological gambling: results of two U.S. national surveys.American Journal of Psychiatry,163(2), 297-302. doi:163/2/297 [pii] 10.1176/appi.ajp.163.2.297

Slutske, W. S., Piasecki, T. M., Blaszczynski, A., & Martin, N. G. (2010). Pathological gambling recovery in the absence of abstinence.Addiction. Advance online publication. doi:10.1111/j.1360-0443.2010.03080.x

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