Gambling should always be for fun! However, all enjoyable things ought to be done in moderation and that includes playing casino games such as slots or poker, for instance. The trouble is that some people don’t seem to know when to stop. Even more worryingly, addictive behaviours don’t necessarily come about because of a simple lack of self-control. Some of the latest research suggests that some individuals are more predisposed to addictions than others. Of course, responsible gaming sites and casinos know what sort of behaviours to look out for when people are gambling in an addictive manner and can, therefore, intervene. What happens if the signs are missed, though?
Thankfully, Finnish research is offering new hope to people who struggle with addiction. The idea the scientists have put forward is a rather surprising one. They suggest that at mere nasal spray – just like something you might use to ward off a common cold – could help with preventing the slide into gambling addiction. Is it true that something as straightforward as a spray could overcome the urge to bet more than you can afford to lose?
Blunting the Power of Neurotransmitters
The idea behind the nasal spray is that it will include chemicals that will act upon the natural way that the brain works. Scientists have long known that certain neurotransmitters have a large part to play in addiction. One of the reasons we do something again and again is because it stimulates the pleasure-receiving parts of the brain. This is commonly referred to as a ‘high’ but all it really means is that you feel good about something. Typically, it is the naturally occurring organic chemical, dopamine, which offers the greatest highs from addictive behaviour.
Whenever someone is addicted to something – a certain behaviour or the consumption of a substance – it is likely that he or she is receiving a dopamine hit. The feeling of calm satisfaction a smoker has when he or she takes drag on a cigarette may be fleeting but it is really dopamine that is at work, bringing about pleasure. For some time, therefore, the search has been on to find a way to dampen the effect of dopamine.
However, a balance needs to be struck. If you ‘turn off’ the flow of dopamine, then this can lead to its own problems. What might help people who feel the twinge of addiction and want to give into it would be a device they could use which temporarily pushed back on dopamine, thereby making the addictive behaviour less stimulating. Ultimately, it is hoped this approach will allow people to overcome their addictions and not succumb to them.
The Finnish Study
At the National Institute for Health and Welfare in Helsinki, a team of researchers hit upon the idea of using naloxone to cause a short-term burst of chemical that would blunt the neuro-transmitting power of dopamine in the brain. Crucially, this drug could be administered in a convenient nasal spray. That meant that addicted people could carry it around with them discretely and administer it themselves whenever the urge to gamble came upon them. Furthermore, naloxone is already widely used to cut off neurotransmitters which may be overcharged due to substance abuse. It is sometimes given as a stimulant to deal with potential overdoses of opiates, for example.
The Professor of Addiction Medicine at the Helsinki Institute, Hannu Alho, posited the idea that the nose was a good way to get naloxone into the brain via the bloodstream because it would start having an effect within minutes. To test his idea, the Finnish team of scientists set about testing naloxone nasal sprays in a sample of addicted people. They recruited over a hundred volunteers to test the team’s spray over the course of a year. Alho’s approach was seen by many as a big step forward in the battle against gambling addiction. Certainly, naloxone has already shown some merit, albeit in studies where it was used in a tablet form which took longer to act than the spray should.
Results from the study are expected in the first half of 2019. They may mean that many people who currently give in to a range of addictive behaviours can take more control of their lives.