One of the challenges facing the problem gambling treatment community is finding ways to reach those struggling with gambling addiction. In particular, it can be especially challenging to help younger gamblers, who are less likely to seek treatment, let alone recognize the extent of their gambling problems.

A recent study from the University of Sydney (Australia) School of Psychology suggests that youth with gambling problems may be receptive to internet-based interventions. The study is based on the relative success of online-based self-help programs in engaging youth with smoking, alcohol and other high-risk behaviors.

Interest in online therapeutic interventions has grown with increasing research that online programs for health and mental health problems have been as effective or better than traditional programs including face-to-face therapy. The study was focused on active interventions involving interactive self-help programs including personalized feedback or Internet-based interactions with therapists or peers through email, chat or discussion forums.

There are several reasons why online interventions may be helpful in treating high-risk behaviors among youth. First, the confidentiality and nonjudgmental quality of the Internet may make it more likely for youth to divulge personal information, which may facilitate knowledge, attitude or behavioral changes. A second advantage is the ability to assess a large and vulnerable population in a cost-effective and confidential manner and provide relevant resources to those in need. Internet interventions also provide for the ability to tailor customized program content that is more likely to be read, remembered and viewed as personally relevant – all factors that may ultimately increase utilization and effectiveness.

The study also noted that online focus groups of adolescents reported that the online environment was less confronting than traditional forms of counseling. Responses indicated that it was less “intimidating” and “scary,” and that counselors wouldn’t think they were “weird” and couldn’t see if they cried.

The study notes that while online interventions are being increasingly implemented and evaluated to reduce some high-risk behavior among youth, there is little to no empirical evidence supporting the use of online intervention for gambling-related problems specifically. However, the study suggests it’s reasonable to conclude that such interventions would be an acceptable form of treatment for those with gambling-related issues and potentially preferred to traditional face-to-face or self-help alternatives.

The state of Minnesota has devoted resources to target youth gamblers online. Beat the Bet (Facebook) is one such site for student gamblers.