An independent study into the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) scale has reassured GambleAware about its effectiveness in estimating the extent and scale of gambling problems. The PGSI is a set of nine questions about gambling behavior that has been used to measure gambling harms, but there has been debate over its clinical use. In response to these concerns, GambleAware commissioned Ipsos UK to analyze the index in an independent study using a dataset of over 21,000 people from the 2020 and 2021 Annual GB Treatment and Support Survey.

The study found that the PGSI scale can continue to be used to estimate potential risk of gambling harm. It also found a strong and consistent link between higher PGSI scores and higher rates of psychological distress. The scale was also found to be useful when considering integrating mental health interventions into treatment for people who scored highly on the scale.

However, the study also identified some limitations with the PGSI. Researchers found that some questions are more likely to indicate severe risk of harm than others. For example, questions about borrowing money to fund gambling or experiencing financial problems due to gambling may indicate a greater level of harm. This raises questions about whether each PGSI item should be weighted equally when using it as a clinical or screening tool.

The study also recommended that the full PGSI questionnaire, with all nine questions, should be used wherever possible. It found that the alternative three-question PGSI tends to fail to identify some cases of problem gambling and therefore understates the prevalence of problem gambling compared to the full PGSI.

GambleAware’s director of evidence and insights, Haroon Chowdry, expressed reassurance about the findings, stating that the PGSI generally works well as an index, but there are opportunities for improvement in its use. He hopes that treatment services, clinicians, and policymakers will take note of the recommendations to ensure it is being used effectively to help those experiencing gambling harms.

The study recommended that PGSI users and practitioners look beyond the broad classification groupings, as not all people within a PGSI classification are at the same potential risk of harm from gambling. Overall, the study concluded that the PGSI scale should continue to be used to estimate the potential risk of problem gambling among large groups, but it may not work as well as a diagnostic instrument for individuals or for screening purposes.

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