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Addicted to gambling? New pill shows promise

Compulsive gamblers may soon have better odds for changing their ways, thanks to a new study led by a University of Minnesota researcher. The study, published in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry, shows promising results with a new pill containing the drug nalmefene.

“This is a giant leap forward,” says Jon Grant, J.D., M.D., the study’s lead investigator and an associate professor of psychiatry. “This is the first large study showing a medication to be effective for the cravings and behaviors associated with gambling addiction.”

The study’s 207 participants were placed in two groups: One received the drug, the other received a placebo. All took the treatment pill every day in varying doses over a four-month period. At the end, those receiving the medication reported significant improvement in gambling urges, thoughts, and behavior. Nearly 60 percent of those taking the drug reported a much improved or very much improved condition, compared with 34 percent of those taking the placebo.

“This study is part of emerging evidence that gambling, once thought to be a problem of moral integrity, is instead a problem in brain biology and can be successfully treated,” says Robert Freedman, M.D., editor of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The research was sponsored by BioTie Therapies, a Finnish firm that makes the pill. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved the oral form of nalmefene for general clinical use.

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