Gambling With Your Health: It's All in Your Head


In a study of pathological gamblers conducted by at team of researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, the urge to gamble diminished among those who took naltrexone.

It’s no secret the risks and side effects associated with prescription medications can sometimes prove worse than the condition they are designed to treat. Yet, sometimes even the most emotional of problems can be remedied with a little pill.

In a study of pathological gamblers conducted by at team of researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis (UMN), the urge to gamble and gambling-related behaviors diminished among those who took naltrexone -- a drug frequently prescribed for the treatment of alcoholism and drug dependence.

Nearly 40 percent of the pathological gamblers who took naltrexone were able to abstain from all gambling for at least one month, compared with 10.5 percent of those treated with an inactive placebo, according to Jon E. Grant, MD, at UMN, and colleagues, and as reported this week in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Study subjects included men and women between the ages of 14 and 59 years-old who gambled for six to 32 hours weekly and met clinical criteria for pathological gambling. A majority of the study group reported symptoms of depression and about 20 percent said they had anxiety disorder. The researchers randomly assigned 58 men and women to take 50, 100, or 150 mg of naltrexone daily, for up to 18 weeks. Nineteen test subjects were given a placebo.

Those participants treated with naltrexone, compared with placebo, reported fewer gambling urges and thoughts, and indicated they were better able to resist their urges to gamble. The researchers concluded that naltrexone is safe and well-tolerated for up to five months, and helps control symptoms of pathological gambling.

There is one downside, however. A previous study published in the journal Neurology has linked the gambling drug with Parkinson’s disease (PD). The authors screened 297 patients with PD using a modified South Oaks Gambling Scale (SOGS). The SOG Scale is a 20-item questionnaire based on the DSM-III for pathological gambling developed by Henry Lesieur, MD, and Sheila Blume, MD. Lifetime prevalence of pathologic gambling (PG) was 3.4%; PG was associated with earlier PD onset.

The best medicine? To avoid gambling altogether. The addiction can not only put a dent in your pocket — problem gamblers spend well over $500 billion annually – but can also take a significant toll on one’s emotional health.

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