Can Naloxone Curb Gambling Addiction?

By Beth Leipholtz 01/11/18

A groundbreaking study is set to take place to test whether the life-saving nasal spray can help prevent the craving to gamble.

stressed man playing poker

Researchers believe that naloxone nasal spray could be the answer for people who are struggling with a gambling addiction. 

In Finland, a group of researchers are working on a study to determine whether the nasal spray, which contains the popular opioid overdose reversal medication, could potentially treat gambling addictions. 

According to The Guardian, the nasal spray contains naloxone, which is used to treat opioid overdoses. Naloxone works by blocking the production of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is associated with pleasure. 

“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,” Hannu Alho, professor of addiction medicine at the Helsinki-based national institute for health and welfare, told The Guardian.

Researchers are looking for 130 volunteers for the study. Half of the group will use the nasal spray for three months, while the other half will instead be given a placebo. 

A similar idea was previously tested, but rather than a nasal spray, a pill containing naloxone was used. However, the issue was that the pill took up to an hour to take effect, whereas the nasal spray is faster-acting. 

“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.”

In fact, three years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a naloxone spray to treat overdoses, sold under the brand name Narcan. The agency's research found that by delivering naloxone nasally, the drug acted just as fast as when given in injection form. 

The study will begin next week and is projected to last one year. 

Other unique approaches to gambling addiction have also been taken in recent years. 

Last year at the Cyberpsychology Laboratory at Universite du Quebec en Outaouais, researchers spent time looking into how virtual reality could potentially help those addicted to gambling. 

According to Stephane Bouchard, the founder of the Cyberpsychology Laboratory, the idea is that patients could practice addressing potential scenarios in virtual reality so they can better deal with them in real life. 

“If a patient is addicted to cocaine, I can talk with the patient forever, but what really matters is how he or she deals with the situation when cocaine is in front of that person,” Bouchard told Vocativ. “The best thing I would like to do in therapy is to actually offer cocaine to the patient—but that obviously is not possible.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.