15 March 2004

Help for compulsive gamblers

Compulsive gamblers may soon be betting on a new treatment for their addiction - antidepressant medication.

Compulsive gamblers may soon be betting on a new treatment for their addiction - antidepressant medication.

Thirteen of 15 compulsive gamblers who took the antidepressant Celexa in a Brown University study reported they gambled less and had fewer urges to gamble.

"At the start of the study, the gamblers were averaging almost $1 900 in gambling losses in the two weeks prior to the initial assessment. At our last follow-up, that was down to $145 in the past two weeks," says one of the study's authors, Robert Breen.

Gambling addiction has been highlighted in recent weeks by stories of South African families ruined by mothers and fathers who cannot seem to control themselves . The addiction shares many similarities with obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The 15 men and women in study were ready to stop their pathological gambling, the researchers say. Most gambled on slot or video poker machines. Their average gambling debt was $30 564 and their age average was 44.

The patients were given Celexa, an antidepressant in a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and were asked to report to the researchers every two weeks over three months.

Breen says some participants reported improvement at their first appointment, suggesting a placebo effect because the drugs take several weeks to become effective. But he says improvements over three months showed the added benefit of the drug.

Several participants reported sexual side effects, such as impotence and the inability to achieve orgasm, Breen says.

By the end of the study, 13 of the 15 subjects (87 percent) reported spending less money and fewer days gambling. They also reported fewer problems with gambling urges.

Breen says he's not sure how Celexa works for compulsive gambling; however he says other SSRIs have helped control other disorders like compulsive shopping and kleptomania.

The study, sponsored by Forest Laboratories, the maker of Celexa, was presented to the National Institute for Mental Health's New Clinical Drug Evaluation Unit last week in Phoenix.

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