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Could a Nasal Spray be the Solution to Gambling Addiction? Finnish Experts Think So

Could a Nasal Spray be the Solution to Gambling Addiction? Finnish Experts Think So

Scientists at Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) are getting ready to start a new trial that may change the way people deal with gambling addictions forever. Their experiment will test whether a nasal spray with naloxone, a commonly used opiate reversal drug, can dissipate a compulsive gambler’s urge to play.

Naloxone is a drug commonly used to reverse a heroin or opiate overdose. It is most often used as an injection, delivered when the symptoms of an overdose become apparent. Due to the opioid crisis currently gripping several countries, the drug has recently gained attention from both scientists and the media, and has become widely available for drug users through pharmacies or local charity groups.

A nasal spray version has been in development for the past few years, allowing for safer consumption and an easier process. The drug has saved thousands of lives and helped many people dealing with opiate addictions, however it is now poised to help those suffering from another type of addiction as well.

Scientists in Finland are planning to launch a trial that will determine whether a nasal Naloxone spray can be used to curb gambling urges, much like a nicotine spray would be used for those trying to quit smoking. An addict could see a slot machine or bookies, feel the overwhelming compulsion to play, and quickly reach for a spray that would make the urge go away.

A similar experiment had already been conducted a few years ago using a naloxone pill, presenting generally favourable results. However, it was found the pill took too long to be absorbed in the body: by making it a spray, scientists are hoping that the effect could be immediate. Hannu Alho, a research professor and expert on addiction medicine at THL, explains:

“The urge to gamble is a very impulsive one. The need comes on very quickly. It could take up to an hour for a pill to work… But then we got this idea to dilute the medicine in water and develop a nasal spray. We assume it will work quickly.”

“If you really want to play, you can use the spray and then the urge will go away. This is the hypothesis of our study”

The experiment will last three months, and the scientists behind it hope to launch this month. Thirty participants have already signed up, and they will be taking up to 130 people. As far as scientific experiments go, this is low-risk and high reward: there is no money involved, but if it works, participants will have a way to effectively curb their gambling impulses, as well as the help and support of a network of professionals. If it doesn’t, no harm done.

It is easy to see why this is an exciting trial, and one which many people will be watching closely. If successful, it could mean an end to gambling addictions as we know them, and a practical way of dealing with the rising rates of problem gambling currently being observed in multiple countries. In Finland itself, it is estimated 1.5% of the population has a gambling problem, and similar numbers are being seen throughout the world.