Could this simple nasal spray help to cure problem gambling?

  • Researchers claim naloxone temporarily eases addiction
  • Fast-acting drug to be tested on volunteer gamblers

Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) is seeking volunteers to test a nasal spray that claims to prevent problem gambling urges.

Could a simple nasal spray hold the key to battling gambling addiction?
Could a simple nasal spray hold the key to battling gambling addiction?

The naloxone solution is currently used in cases of opiate addiction, such as heroin and painkillers, but researchers claim it also shows signs of relieving urges related to addiction – and that it could therefore be used to combat problem gambling.

Finland’s problem gambling rate has been growing in recent years, with 1.5% of the population known to have a gambling addiction and a further 18% identified as ‘at risk’.

The THL trial will take place over the coming eighteen months, if THL researchers can find enough volunteers to sign up for the program.

Naloxone overdose drug eases addiction symptoms

The compound naloxone, sold commercially as Narcan, is most commonly used to block the effects of an opiate overdose.

The fast-acting drug renders the opiate impotent, shutting down specific chemical receptors in the body for a short time. It is usually delivered intravenously, as a pill, or via a nasal spray like the one being developed in Finland.

Its effectiveness in combating addiction is as yet unclear, but research suggests that naloxone could close down the parts of the brain which are stimulated when an addiction craving – such as the urge to gamble – manifests. A small dose administered via a nasal spray could start working in just a few minutes, reducing the risk that an addict will gamble.

THL has already tested naloxone compounds delivered orally, and they noted that the test subjects did feel less inclined to gamble. However, the drug took up to an hour to work. Gambling urges tend to strike quickly, and a player can place a large number of bets within an hour, so the drug would need to work more quickly to treat addicts effectively.

Research team seeks volunteers for trial

At least 30 people have already signed up for the trial, THL reports, but a further 100 places are open for other willing volunteers. The gambling addicts who take part will be offered treatment in the form of the nasal spray, but will also be supported by the research team as they try to kick their addiction.

Professor Hannu Alho hopes the trial will begin later this month, with testing taking place over a period of three months. However, results from the study are not expected until at least mid-2019. If the program proves successful in treating gambling addicts, the nasal spray testing could be extended to cover other forms of addiction, including alcohol and substance abuse.

It may also be used to treat compulsive behavior disorders and anxiety in the future.

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