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Impulsivity and cognitive distortions are hallmarks of gambling disorder (GD) but it remains unclear how they contribute to clinical phenotypes. This study aimed to (1) compare impulsive traits and gambling-related distortions in strategic versus non-strategic gamblers and online versus offline gamblers; (2) examine the longitudinal association between impulsivity/cognitive distortions and treatment retention and relapse.
Participants seeking treatment for GD (n = 245) were assessed for gambling modality (clinical interview), impulsive traits (Urgency, Premeditation, Perseverance and Sensation Seeking [UPPS] scale) and cognitive distortions (Gambling Related Cognitions Scale) at treatment onset, and for retention and relapse (as indicated by the clinical team) at the end of treatment. Treatment consisted of 12-week standardized cognitive behavioral therapy, conducted in a public specialized clinic within a general public hospital.
Strategic gamblers had higher lack of perseverance and gambling-related expectancies and illusion of control than non-strategic gamblers, and online gamblers had generally higher distortions but similar impulsivity to offline gamblers. Lack of perseverance predicted treatment dropout, whereas negative urgency and distortions of inability to stop gambling and interpretative bias predicted number of relapses during treatment.
Individuals with online and strategic GD phenotypes have heightened gambling related biases associated with premature treatment cessation and relapse. Findings suggest that these GD phenotypes may need tailored treatment approaches to reduce specific distortions and impulsive facets.
DSM-5 proposed a new operational system by using the number of fulfilled criteria as an indicator of gambling disorder severity. This method has proven to be controversial among researchers and clinicians alike, due to the lack of studies indicating whether severity, as measured by these criteria, is clinically relevant in terms of treatment outcome. Additionally, numerous studies have highlighted the associations between gambling disorder and impulsivity, though few have examined the impact of impulsivity on long-term treatment outcomes.
In this study, we aimed to assess the predictive value of DSM-5 severity levels on response to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in a sample of male adults seeking treatment for gambling disorder (n = 398). Furthermore, we explored longitudinal predictors of CBT treatment response at a follow-up, considering UPPS-P impulsivity traits.
Our study failed to identify differences in treatment outcomes between patients categorized by DSM-5 severity levels. Higher baseline scores in negative urgency predicted relapse during CBT treatment, and higher levels of sensation seeking were predictive of drop-out from short-term treatment, as well as of drop-out at 24-months.
These noteworthy findings raise questions regarding the clinical utility of DSM-5 severity categories and lend support to the implementation of dimensional approaches for gambling disorder.
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