NCRG Conference Presenter Discusses How To Use The Internet As An Intervention For Gambling Disorders

The third morning session at the 12thannual NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction was an especially good fit with the conference theme, “Risk or Reward: The Impact of Technology on Treatment, Research and Responsible Gaming.” Dr. John Cunningham, Canada research chair in brief interventions for addictive behaviors at the University of Toronto, presented a session called “Web-based Interventions for Alcohol Use Disorders: Implications for Gambling.” The session was especially pertinent because it highlighted the possibilities of using web-based treatments for gambling disorders, an option that is sometimes overshadowed by concerns about the potential negative effects of technology.

Dr. Cunningham began his talk by highlighting the tremendous potential that Internet-based interventions (IBIs) have as a treatment method for those with addictive disorders. One of the main benefits of IBIs is their ability to reach people who are not in treatment, a group that ranges from 88 to 93 percent of people with gambling disorders (Slutske, 2006). Dr. Cunningham stated that IBIs are well-suited for people with gambling disorders for a few reasons. First, 73 percent of people with gambling disorders have access to the Internet in their home and are able to access the IBI programs at any time of day. Second, participants like the privacy that IBIs provide, and individuals claim that they find it easier to write their experiences than to speak them. Dr. Cunningham also noted that online participation might be a first step to seeking treatment, and there is no evidence that people are using IBIs instead of attending in-person treatment.

To provide an example of what an IBI might look like, Dr. Cunningham talked about an IBI for alcohol use disorders The website contains a series of resources for people with alcohol use disorders such as self-tests, cognitive behavioral therapy tools and support group features. The self-test provides normative feedback about the average alcohol consumption for the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Research has shown that people want to behave in ways that are similar to their peers, and normative feedback uses this desire to encourage healthy behavior by pointing out when people are drinking more than the average.

The online tools, such as those on, are particularly useful to host support groups because people can access their group at any time of day from any location with Internet access. This means that participants with a mobile phone who could connect to the Internet could also connect to their support group at any place where they might need support, including in the parking lot of a liquor store or casino.

Dr. Cunningham concluded that these tools currently being used for alcohol and tobacco use have potential for gambling disorders as well. While gambling research is not as far along as research related to other addictive disorders, there is evidence that similar tools may be useful.

For information about the work of Dr. Cunningham and his colleagues at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, you can visit their website at For information about other sessions at the 12thannual Conference on Gambling and Addiction, please visit theconference websiteand check out some of the earlier posts on this page.


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

NCRG staffConference on Gambling and Addiction