A Meta-Review to Guide Military Screening and Treatment of Gambling Problems

Anna Segura, Richard E. Heyman, Jennie Ochshorn, Amy M. Smith Slep

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction: Excessive gambling can cause substantial biopsychosocial problems (e.g., difficulties with finances, relationships, mental, and physical health). For military Service Members, it can also result in security clearance denial or revocation, failure to achieve promotions, and premature career termination. Recent congressional mandates have obligated the U.S. Department of Defense to screen for problematic gambling, the predictive values of which are a function of (i) problem prevalence and (ii) tool sensitivity and specificity. This meta-review (i.e., systematic review of systematic reviews) on the screening properties of gambling assessment tools and the effectiveness of treatments for gambling disorder is to inform military services on responding to Service Members’ gambling problems. Materials and Methods: EBSCO Discovery Service, PubMed, PsycINFO, Ovid Medline, Social Care Online, Epistemonikos, International Health Technology Assessment, and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials electronic databases were searched up to December 2022 for systematic reviews and meta-analyses on measurements of adult subclinical or gambling, and interventions targeting individuals with GD. Three and four studies were included in each section of the current meta-review (i.e., assessment tools and treatment). For review 1, the estimated risk of bias was assessed using the Risk of Bias in Systematic Reviews. Results: Thirty-one tools were identified through the three systematic reviews. All had modest sensitivities and specificities; combined with low prevalences in the general SM population, positive results would be incorrect 64-99% of the time. However, if screening were conducted with SMs referred for alcohol problems, a positive result on the best screening tools would be correct 76% of the time. Several commonly used treatment approaches had demonstrated efficacy for GD. Conclusions: The combination of low prevalence of GD and subclinical gambling problems in the general population, coupled with modest sensitivity and specificity, makes screening unfeasible in the general SM population. However, dual-phase screening in higher-prevalence subpopulations (i.e., SMs already identified with substance-abuse or mental-health problems) would be viable. Regarding treatment, several interventions—already used in military healthcare—with extensive empirical track records have been successfully used to treat adults with GD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e1362-e1373
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - May 1 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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