|Naltrexone, a drug used in the treatment of heroin addiction and alcoholism is showing early promise as a treatment for problem gamblers, a conference in Australia was told yesterday.|
Psychiatrist Malcolm Battersby, a senior lecturer at South Australia's Flinders University, said that in a small number of case studies, naltrexone seemed to reduce the overwhelming urge to gamble found in pathological gamblers.
In heroin addicts, naltrexone, an opioid antagonist, works by blocking the opioid receptors in the brain, but Dr Battersby said researchers were unsure why the drug helped gambling addicts.
He said it seemed to control their cravings in the same way as it helped heroin users and alcoholics beat their drug addictions.
'We've used it with one person in South Australia who had this very strong urge and didn't respond to the other sorts of treatment and he's actually responded well to the naltrexone,' Dr Battersby said.
'It shows some promise for the future.'
Dr Battersby said a US trial using anti-depressants also seemed to help control gambling urges in addicted gamblers, even those not considered clinically depressed. He added that further research is necessary before psychiatrists could be confident about drug treatments.
In Australia, The Productivity Commission has estimated up to 3% of the Australian population - about 600,000 people - have a gambling problem or are at risk of becoming pathological gamblers.
'Health professionals should begin to think of it as a common problem,' said Dr Battersby, who is director of the Centre for Anxiety and Related Disorders at the Flinders Medical Centre.
The Productivity Commission also found about 40% of gambling establishments’ revenue came from addicted gamblers.
Dr Battersby told the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists' annual congress in Brisbane about 28% of problem gamblers suffered from anxiety and around the same number from depression.
He said psychological treatments such as cognitive behaviour therapy and financial counselling are often a first-line of intervention.