Alex Kruse and Jessica Tanner explore harm reduction in gambling

What you need to know

While working on their PhD programs, Alex and Jessica collaborated on a systematic review of the literature examining problem gambling and protective behaviour strategies. Although their review revealed some mixed results, they were able to identify several industry and individual strategies to reduce the harms associated with gambling. Their goal was to use a harm reduction lens to help individuals reduce or minimize the consequences of gambling without having to abstain. 

About Alex and Jessica

Alex and Jessica are currently in the second year of their PhD programs in Clinical Psychology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. Both are published researchers who completed their Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology in 2014 at Lakehead. 

Jessica’s research focuses primarily on gambling as it pertains to age, problem gambling, and gambling cognitions. Alex is focusing on transdiagnostic approaches to the treatment of mental health difficulties in Indigenous peoples, along with harm reduction approaches to treating substance use problems. 

Jessica received funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Ontario Graduate Scholarship (OGS), and the Knowledge Translation and Exchange Student Fellowship from Gambling Research Exchange Ontario, formerly the Ontario Problem Gambling Research Center. Alex was funded by OGS and the Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research. (NAMHR). 

What is Jessica and Alex’s research about?

Some back story

The current study evolved from their combined interests: Alex’s in harm reduction and specific behaviors one can use to minimize the harms of drinking, and Jessica’s in problem gambling. They both felt their research interests synergized well so they approached their respective mentors, Dr. Mazmanian and Dr. Mushquash, to discuss the possibility of collaborating. 

The group thought it was important to use a harm reduction lens to see if there were effective strategies to help individuals minimize the consequences of problem gambling without advocating for stopping altogether. They knew that protective behavioural strategies have been applied to alcohol and wanted to see if they could extend and apply these strategies to gambling. 

The first step would be to conduct a systematic review of the literature in harm reduction and gambling to see what the existing research said. The result was the current project.

About the project

How effective are harm reduction strategies on a variety of gambling outcomes? 

Jessica and Alex wanted to examine outcomes, such as money and time spent gambling, and whether specific strategies could help reduce the harms. The goal was to use a harm reduction lens to help individuals reduce or minimize the consequences of gambling.

They were unsure of what they might uncover; this is a fairly new area of gambling research. They knew that some research has looked at harm reduction and minimizing harm, but there has not been much research on the benefits of industry-implemented strategies. 

They thought they could help inform new approaches and directions by asking a few directed questions:

  • What are effective strategies, at the environmental- and industry-level, to reduce the harms of problem gambling, and how effective are they?
  • What are protective behavioural strategies that individuals can use to reduce the harms of gambling, and what is their effectiveness?

For their study, Jessica and Alex conducted a systematic review of published research and other reports looking at industry- and individual-level strategies to reduce the harms of gambling. They searched a wide variety of sources to study an international population of adults, typically 18 years and older. 

What they found

Conflicting data from existing literature

Jessica and Alex identified 27 studies examining industry-level strategies and 33 studies examining individual protective behavioural strategies. From this, they found mixed and conflicting results, possibly due to differences in the samples used, the study settings, or differences in the research methods. But they were able to distill some relevant information. 

During their initial search, it was evident the implementation of these strategies within the gambling industry, including businesses, policymakers, and individuals, was not all evidence-based. 

In fact, Alex stated, “We were surprised by both the lack of evidence and evidence indicating that certain popular strategies do not provide any benefit to the gambler.

Hopefully our findings can inform all levels of intervention and reduce harm for individuals who do not choose to abstain entirely from gambling."

In sum, Alex and Jessica’s current research has the potential to impact future research and treatment of problem gambling as well as industry practice and policy. The identification of specific and effective behavioural strategies may help improve client-centered treatment, as well as direct public education strategies.

What’s next for Alex and Jessica?

After completion of this study, Alex will continue work on her dissertation, which centers on the examination of indicators of child mental wellbeing in First Nations communities, under the supervision of Dr. Christopher Mushquash. Alex is also pursuing additional research in the area of transdiagnostic approaches to the treatment of mental health difficulties. 

Jessica will also continue work on her doctoral dissertation, under the supervision of Dr. Dwight Mazmanian. She will be holding information sessions for younger and older adults on gambling and problem gambling. Her goal is to help provide information about responsible gambling and correct common misconceptions that participants will experience a decrease in negative consequences from problem gambling behaviours.

Together, Alex and Jessica plan to collaborate and follow-up on this research by conducting a surveillance study of gambling and individual protective strategies in Northwestern Ontario. Subsequently they hope to develop a measure of protective behavioural strategies in gambling and adapt existing measures and create new items based on their results. Finally, their collaborative team would like to explore the use and effectiveness of individual protective behaviours and industry strategies for Internet gambling.  

For more information contact:

Alex Kruse
askruse [at] lakeheadu [dot] ca

Jessica Tanner

askruse [at] lakeheadu [dot] ca