Background: Pathological gambling (PG) is a relatively common and highly disabling impulse control disorder. A range of psychotherapeutic agents, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, mood stabilizers, and opioid antagonists, has been shown to be effective in the treatment of PG. The use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and opioid antagonists for PG is consistent with the observation that PG shares features of both the obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders and addictive disorders. The aim of the study is to compare the effectiveness of sustained-release bupropion versus naltrexone in the treatment of PG.
Methods: Thirty-six male pathological gamblers were enrolled in our study. A comprehensive psychiatric diagnostic evaluation was performed at baseline on all patients, and patients were screened for symptoms of gambling, depression, and anxiety using the South Oaks Gambling Screen, the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, the Hamilton Anxiety Rating Scale, and the Clinical Global Impression-Severity Scale. In addition, the patients completed self-report questionnaires about their demographic status. Patients were randomized in 2 groups and received either naltrexone (n = 19) or sustained-release bupropion (n = 17) for 12 weeks in a parallel fashion. Treatment response was monitored using the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement Scale which was performed at weeks 2, 4, 8, and 12. Patients were also assessed for the presence of gambling behavior via an unstructured interview, which was also performed at weeks 2, 4, 6, 8, and 12. Raters were blind to the study treatment.
Results: The majority of patients responded well to the drug treatment. Twelve of 17 patients in the sustained-release bupropion group completed the 12-week study, and 13 of 19 naltrexone patients completed the study. Nine (75%) of the 12 completers were rated as full responders in the sustained-release bupropion group versus 10 (76%) of 12 in the naltrexone group. Three (25%) of 12 completers in the bupropion group were rated as partial responders. In the naltrexone group, 3 (23%) of 13 completers were rated as partial responders. Full response was defined as the absence of gambling for a 2-week duration together with improvement on the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement Scale. Partial response was defined as a decrease in the frequency of gambling behavior and a decrease in the amount of money spent on gambling.
Conclusion: This preliminary study shows that sustained-release bupropion may be effective as naltrexone in the treatment of PG. Further studies are needed to confirm our findings.