Work by an Israeli researcher into gambling addiction suggests the most effective treatment for the disorder should include medication and psychotherapy — for at least two years.
Psychiatrist Dr. Pinhas Dannon of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler Faculty of Medicine said the extended treatment regimen would utilize Naltrexone, a drug used to treat alcoholism, and be complemented with other treatments, including group therapy.
Pathological gambling is relatively common in the U.S afflicting as many as 3.4 percent of all adults. Like other addictions, it is highly disabling both to the individual and to society, and can lead to suicide, job loss, and criminal behavior. It affects more men than women and can become worse over time.
Earlier studies reported that after six months of treatment, a majority of the gamblers would not go back to gambling. Dannon believes that a longer course of treatment is more effective.
“The initial results were too optimistic,” Dannon said. His data indicates that a drug regimen lasting two years keeps 80 percent of gamblers “gamble-free” over a four-year period.
By contrast, only 30 percent of gamblers who were treated over a six-month period remained gamble-free four years later.
The preliminary study, conducted in 2006 and 2007, was encouraging, Dannon said, but for long-term effectiveness gambling addicts need to stick out a course of treatment for at least two years in order for Naltrexone to work most efficiently.
Group therapy and regular attendance at Gamblers’ Anonymous meetings can also help the addict lead a healthier, gambling-free life.
Dannon has also conducted extensive research on other kinds of addiction, including Internet addiction. One of his recent patients was addicted to the Facebook game “Farmville,” neglecting her two young children to play it.
While Facebook poker and “Farmville” can be addictive, these obsessions can be treated differently than those of hard-core gamblers who risk their marriages, houses and careers. For milder addictions, group therapy and professional counselling might be all the help that’s needed.
“Gambling addiction is a chronic disorder,” Dannon said. “We need much more time to treat these patients. They require careful monitoring and holistic treatments over the longer term to avoid relapse.”