Drug curbs compulsive gambling

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: May 11th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Evidence continues to mount showing that compulsive gambling truly is a disease. Recent studies have linked the condition to activity in a part of the brain that’s associated with drug abuse.

This poses an interesting question: If gambling addiction is a sickness, can we treat it with medication?

The answer appears to be a qualified “yes,” although the drugs that have been tested previously, including serotonin [sarah-TOE-nin] inhibiters and lithium, have given mediocre results.

A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota recently completed the largest-ever clinical study on a drug that might curb gambling behavior.

They looked at nalmefene [NAL-muh-feen], which interferes with the brain’s ability to process chemicals that cause feelings of pleasure. It’s often used to treat alcoholism.

More than two-hundred men and women participated in the study. Three-quarters of them received daily doses of nalmefene, the others got a placebo.

After four months, about sixty percent of those taking nalmefene showed significant improvement, including less desire to gamble.

But the results, reported in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, weren’t completely encouraging.

One-third of the participants using nalmefene left the study prematurely because they didn’t like the side effects… nausea, dizziness and insomnia.

And one-third of the placebo group showed significant improvement. That’s not necessarily bad, but it shows that positive thinking plays a big role in recovery.

Obviously, research on nalmefene holds great promise. But perhaps what we really need is a better way to convince compulsive gamblers they can quit.