Could a Nasal Spray Help Treat Gambling Addiction?


For those who suffer from a gambling addiction, the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Finland is working on a treatment. The institute is looking to begin a new study on the use of a nasal spray designed for the addiction.

The nasal spray ingredients include naloxone, a chemical that hinders the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter within the brain that is often associated with pleasure. Naloxone is frequently used for emergency overdoses of various opiates.

Credit: Sandor Weisz/Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

“The spray goes to the brain in a few minutes so it’s very useful for a gambler… if you crave gambling, just take the spray,” said Hannu Alho, a professor of addiction medicine at the institute, to the Guardian.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a nasal spray containing naloxone in 2015 to treat opioid overdoses. Before the nasal spray was implemented, the only other options for the treatment were via injectable forms.

A pill form was designed to treat gambling addictions specifically, but couldn’t be absorbed until an hour had elapsed. Alho said the treatment was ultimately ineffective.

The Finnish researchers are currently searching for volunteers for the year-long study and hope to have 130 participants. If the study recruits the participants they need, then half of them, or 65 participants, would use the nasal spray while the other half would use a placebo spray.

Alho said the study would be “the first of its kind globally to use nasal spray.” The researchers prepare to begin the study as recent reports show that gambling addictions are prevalent in both Finland and Britain.

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A report from Peluuri, an organization located in Finland that offers support, information and consultation services to gamblers, their family and friends, found that more than 110,000 people in Finland suffer from a gambling addiction. The report stated that 2.7 percent of people from ages 15 to 74 years old have gambling problems all at different levels.

The report added that gambling was found to be three times more common for men at 4.7 percent than for women at 1.6 percent. Fifty-six percent of survey respondents reported that they gamble daily or almost daily.

In 2015, the U.K. Gambling Commission found that 63 percent of adults had gambled in the past year. Of the 63 percent, 66 percent were men and 59 percent were women. The most common form of gambling was participation in the national lottery.

“Gambling is a very impulsive behavior…the need to gamble starts right away,” Alho said. “For this reason we are seeking a medication with a quick effect…the nasal spray acts in just a few minutes.”

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