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Talking with patients about gambling

Talking about gambling may be easier if you make screening for gambling problems a routine part of your standard assessment process.

It is rarely helpful to ask directly, "Are you having a problem with gambling?"  Some people might not have insight into how their problems are associated with gambling, and for others, this blunt approach could provoke a defensive response, making the patient unwilling to explore the issue further.

However, there are more effective ways to ask patients about gambling. Do not worry that gambling is too delicate a subject to bring up. It is okay to assume that people gamble because most people do. Focus the questions on the activity, and use non-judgmental language.

Ask about recreational activities:

  • "What do you do for fun?"
  • "Do you go to the movies, night clubs or the racetrack?"
  • "Do you ever go to casinos or other gambling venues?"

Ask about frequency, time and money:

  • "How often do you play bingo, buy lottery tickets or play casino games?" (Many people do not think of lottery tickets or bingo as gambling, so you will have to ask about them specifically.)
  • "How much time and money do you spend on these activities?"

If you suspect that gambling may be a concern, consider asking the patient to complete a screening tool.