Internet addiction, sex addiction and compulsive buying are common behavioral problems, which share similarities with gambling disorder and substance use disorders. However, little is known about the efficacy of their treatments. The objective of this meta-analysis was to examine the efficacy of the treatments of such problem behaviors, and to draw parallels to gambling disorder and substance use disorders in terms of treatment response.
Literature search yielded 91 studies totaling 3,531 participants to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the short-term and long-term efficacy of psychological, pharmacological and combined treatments for internet addiction, sex addiction, and compulsive buying.
Psychological, pharmacological, and combined treatments were associated with robust pre-post improvements in the global severity of internet addiction (Hedges's g: 1.51, 1.13, and 2.51, respectively) and sex addiction (Hedges's g: 1.09, 1.21, and 1.91, respectively). For compulsive buying, psychological and pharmacological treatments were also associated with a large-sized pre-post reduction in global severity (Hedges's g: 1.00 and 1.52, respectively). The controlled pre-post and within-group pre-follow-up effect sizes were in the similar range, with few exceptions. Moderator analyses suggest that psychological interventions are effective for reducing compulsive behaviors, especially when delivered face-to-face and conducted over extended periods of time. Combinations of cognitive-behavioral approaches with medications showed an advantage over monotherapies.
Discussion and Conclusions
The results suggest that treatments for common behavioral addictions are effective in the short term, similar to those implemented for gambling disorder and substance use disorders, but more rigorous clinical trials are needed.
In the light of growing traditional and novel forms of gambling, the treatment of disordered gambling is gaining increasing importance and practical relevance. Most studies have examined face-to-face treatments. Although trials implementing self-guided treatments have recently been conducted, these options have not yet been systematically examined. The primary objective of this meta-analysis, therefore, was to analyze the efficacy of all types of psychological face-to-face and self-guided treatments.
A multilevel literature search yielded 27 randomized controlled studies totaling 3,879 participants to provide a comprehensive comparative evaluation of the short- and long-term efficacies of face-to-face and self-guided treatments for disordered gambling.
As expected, the results revealed significantly higher effect sizes for face-to-face treatments (16 studies with Hedges’s g ranging from 0.67 to 1.15) as compared with self-guided treatments (11 studies with Hedges’s g ranging from 0.12 to 0.30) regarding the reduction of problematic gambling behavior. The intensity of treatment moderated the therapy effect, particularly for self-guided treatments.
Discussion and Conclusions
The results of this meta-analysis favor face-to-face treatments over self-guided treatments for the reduction of disordered gambling. Although the findings broaden the scope of knowledge about psychological treatment modalities for disordered gambling, further research is needed to identify the reasons for these differences with the goal to optimize the treatment for this disabling condition.