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Gambling chips and money

Pathological gambling affects an estimated 9 million people.

U researchers test pill for gambling addiction

February 2, 2006

If you're a compulsive gambler, your odds of turning your back on the habit might soon be getting better. Researchers at the University of Minnesota have achieved promising results in treating pathological gambling with a new pill containing the drug nalmefene. The study is published in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. "Earlier studies of various other types of medication have largely proved to be unsuccessful," says Jon Grant, associate professor of psychiatry and principal investigator. "This is really the first large study showing a medication to be effective for the cravings and behaviors associated with gambling addiction."

Nalmefene is an opioid antagonist that negates the rush associated with gambling and curbs the craving to gamble. Participants enrolled in the study were placed in two groups: one that received the treatment and another that received a placebo. Over a four-month period, participants receiving the medication reported significant improvement in gambling urges, thoughts, and behavior. Participants took the treatment pill every day in varying doses.

Pathological gambling is a psychiatric condition in which gambling and the need to gamble cripples people's ability to function well. It can involve financial difficulties, lying, and increasing the amount of bets and the time spent gambling.

Grant estimates that roughly 9 million people suffer from pathological gambling. He says that if the treatment continues to show success, it could be available to the public in 18 to 24 months.

To hear Jon Grant talk about this gambling treatment, listen to the University of Minnesota moment. U of M Moments are daily radio vignettes featuring University experts commenting on timely topics.