New Study Examines Potential Of Alzheimer’s Drug For Treating Pathological Gambling

Although pathological gambling (PG) has been recognized as a psychological disorder since 1980, there are still no FDA-approved medications to treat the disorder. Until now, most pharmacological treatments for PG have been adapted from treatments from other addictive disorders such as alcohol dependence. A recently published article in the journalPsychopharmacologyreports on the use of a drug from an unexpected source: a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease (Grant, Chamberlain, Odlaug, Potenza, & Kim, 2010).

Previous pharmacological research has suggested that people with PG experience imbalances in the part of the brain that mediates urges and the part that mediates cognitive control. Pharmacological treatments for PG, such as naltrexone, which is also used for reducing cravings for alcohol, have generally focused solely on reducing the urge to gamble. However, the authors of this study conjecture that memantine, a drug used to treat people with Alzheimer’s disease, has the potential to improve cognitive control in addition to reducing urges to gamble. The researchers hypothesized that the same chemical properties that improve brain function in people with Alzheimer’s disease may improve the brain function that mediates cognitive control.

To test this concept, the researchers conducted a pilot study that followed 29 subjects who took the drug for 10 weeks. The researchers found that, after 10 weeks, the participants significantly decreased the amount of time and money they spent gambling, and reported significantly lower desire to gamble. More promising than this, the participants were no longer significantly worse than the control group at tasks that test impulsivity and, most importantly, cognitive flexibility[i]. These improvements in brain function suggest that memantine should be further explored as a novel pharmacological treatment for PG.

More information on the article inPsychopharmacologyis available onthe journal’s website. What are your thoughts about drug treatments for gambling disorders? Tell us in the Comments section below.


Grant, J. E., Chamberlain, S. R., Odlaug, B. L., Potenza, M. N., & Kim, S. W. (2010). Memantine shows promise in reducing gambling severity and cognitive inflexibility in pathological gambling: a pilot study.Psychopharmacology,212(4), 603-612. doi:10.1007/s00213-010-1994-5

[i]Cognitive flexibility is the ability to switch behavioral responses according to the context of a situation. At the beginning of the trial,participants with PG had significantly worse cognitive flexibility scores when compared to controls.

NCRG staffResearch Updategambling addictionJon E. Grantnew researchtreatment for pathological gamblingUniversity of Minnesota