Abstract: Exploring Help-Seeking in Problem Gamblers Via Reddit Support Communities (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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219P Exploring Help-Seeking in Problem Gamblers Via Reddit Support Communities

Friday, January 13, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Laena McDonald, BM, MSW Student, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Mark van der Maas, JD, PhD, Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ

As the majority of problem gamblers do not seek formal help, many turn to online support groups and self-help meetings. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited accessibility to meetings and other in-person options for support. Online support is often utilized instead of formal options because the shame and stigma experienced by problem gamblers discourages in-person options. These feelings also lead to social exclusion and the loss of offline social support. Recent research suggests that participation in online recovery communities is a possible solution for those experiencing barriers to in-person support. Further, identifying with an online peer group that promotes recovery is a protective factor against excessive and risky gambling. Influence from these groups particularly affects adolescent problem gamblers who often value advice from peers more highly than that of formal sources.


This project consists of exploratory research, aiming to identify and describe emergent themes found in the discourse of users that seek help in Reddit’s problem gambling communities.

Aim 1: The first aim of this study is to understand the events that lead problem gamblers to seek help. Further, we will examine users’ perception about different forms of help-seeking, how help is utilized, and which sources of help are recommended to other users.

Aim 2: The second aim of this study is to identify barriers encountered in help-seeking, including how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted accessibility.


Data for the current project will be collected from forums on reddit.com, a popular website that hosts message boards on a wide variety of topics. Data spanning from 2021 to 2022 will be collected from the r/gamblingaddiction and r/problemgambling message boards or “subreddits”. This pilot data will then be reviewed with an open coding strategy. Emergent themes found will then lead to more systematic data sampling and analysis strategies for later projects.


Self-identified problem gamblers in Reddit’s gambling recovery communities were diverse. Users remarked on events that influenced their gambling behavior, with increasing mention of isolation due to the pandemic. General trends identified in help-seeking indicated a preference of self-help and peer-support options. Users often encouraged others to create barriers to control their gambling including enrollment in self-exclusion programs. Other frequently mentioned self-help strategies included seeking out positive hobbies, contacting other Reddit users for support, and attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings. Education through the viewing of problem gambling blogs, podcasts, and videos was encouraged. Users also suggested formal treatment in the form of individual therapy.


Online forums provide a source of support with low cost of access for self-identified problem gamblers. This discourse used on these forums can provide social workers with a better understanding of their clients with problem gambling or other addictions. Further, the findings from the study can help in the creation of offline treatment plans. These include identifying life events that motivate these clients to seek help, which interventions are viewed as effective by those experiencing problems, and understanding of the barriers to help-seeking.