Addiction Meds May Help Gamblers

THURSDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Drugs used to treat substance addictions could prove effective in treating pathological gambling, U.S. researchers say.

They tested medications designed to decrease urges and increase inhibitions in two groups of male and female pathological gamblers: those driven by urge (they gamble when the desire becomes too strong to control) and those who don't have normal inhibition of impulsive behaviors (they're unable to control the desire to gamble even when the urges are minimal or nonexistent).

The first group -- those driven by urge -- responded well to medications that block the brain opioid system (such as naltrexone) or certain receptors for the neurotransmitter glutamate (such as memantine). Gamblers with a family history of the problem responded especially well to the opioid blocker, the study found.

The second group -- those unable to control any impulse to gamble -- responded well to medications that target an enzyme called catechol-O-methyl-transferase (COMT), which plays a major role in the function of the prefrontal cortex.

The study was scheduled to be presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, Dec. 6 to 10 in Hollywood, Fla..

"By understanding these different subtypes [of gamblers], we are able to target the core biology of the illness with individualized treatment," study author Dr. Jon Grant, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Minnesota, said in a news release from the college. "When we look at pathological gambling as an addiction and try to understand the sense of urge and inhibitions, we are able to target the treatment with medication more effectively."

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about problem gambling.

SOURCE: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, news release, Dec. 10, 2009

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