Social Work Contributes to University Research Collaboration Addressing Gambling Addiction

The Wayne State School of Social Work is contributing to a university-funded multi-disciplinary pilot study to examine the efficacy of an innovative, technology-based intervention (biofeedback) for gambling addiction.

Assistant Professor Jamey Lister is co-principal investigator on “Biofeedback of heart rate variability in gambling disorder,” which received a $22,500 RoBUST seed grant from Wayne State’s Division of Research and will be conducted at the university’s $90 million Integrative Biosciences Center. Lister will work with Principal Investigator Massil Benbouriche, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychology, Co-Principal Investigator Neha Gothe, assistant professor in kinesiology, exercise and sport sciences, and Co-Investigator David Ledgerwood, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences (School of Medicine).

The 18-month pilot will use biometrics to gauge whether the biofeedback intervention is effective in reducing gambling-related cravings, improving coping with stress after seeing gambling triggers and altering heart rate variability in roughly two dozen persons. The pilot study will use a simulated virtual reality casino that triggers cravings. The biofeedback training will teach subjects breathing techniques and provide feedback on computer monitor (of their physiological activity), intended to help them gain control when triggered and better resist cravings.

According to Lister, the pilot study illustrates the priorities of the RoBUST seed grant program, which are to foster new collegial relationships between scientists from diverse disciplines in order to address the many health disparities that plague Detroit’s residents. Gambling addiction is both underrepresented in the addiction research literature and overrepresented as a problem among Detroiters, he noted, making it the ideal focus for RoBUST funding.

“While gambling addiction has been considered a psychiatric disorder since 1980, it was relegated in the previous Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to a ‘catchall’ chapter on impulse disorders and has received inadequate attention from America’s research and treatment communities,” said Lister, who is also adjunct assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences Substance Abuse Research Division. “Fortunately, in 2013 the manual gave gambling addiction more formal recognition as the only behavioral addiction, and this pilot study represents what we hope will be a continued increase in attention to this problem.”

According to Lister, whose doctoral dissertation on gambling behavior incorporated virtual reality casinos and was honored by the National Council on Problem Gambling, only one in 10 Americans with a gambling disorder seeks help. Moreover, he noted, help-seeking is typically through 12-step groups because of greater comfort with self-help (compared to professional treatment), lack of insurance coverage for treatment, or fear of workplace repercussions upon using the insurance for treatment. In Detroit, the incidence of gambling addiction is estimated to be three to five times the national average, likely due to the prevalence of risk factors such as poverty and access to gambling outlets.

“Gambling addiction is a significant public health problem in urban areas like Detroit, particularly considering that people with gambling addictions frequently have co-occurring substance use disorders and physical problems such as heart disease and diabetes,” Lister said. “This pilot illustrates the team science-based approach that social work is using to address and solve complicated social problems that are caused by a combination of behavioral and psychosocial factors.”

For additional information on research conducted in the School of Social Work visit the Wayne State School of Social Work Center for Social Work Research website. 

Back to listing