Background: Pharmacological interventions for disordered and problem gambling have been employed in clinical practice. Despite the availability of several reviews of the efficacy of pharmacological interventions for disordered or problem gambling, few have employed systematic search strategies or compared different categories of pharmacological interventions. Systematic reviews of high-quality evidence are therefore essential to provide guidance regarding the efficacy of different pharmacological interventions for disordered or problem gambling.
Objectives: The primary aims of the review were to: (1) examine the efficacy of major categories of pharmacological-only interventions (antidepressants, opioid antagonists, mood stabilisers, atypical antipsychotics) for disordered or problem gambling, relative to placebo control conditions; and (2) examine the efficacy of these major categories relative to each other. SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Specialised Register, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), Ovid MEDLINE, Embase, and PsycINFO (all years to 11 January 2022).
Selection criteria: We included randomised trials evaluating a pharmacological intervention for the treatment of disordered or problem gambling. Eligible control conditions included placebo control groups or comparisons with another category of pharmacological intervention.
Data collection and analysis: We used standard methodological procedures, including systematic extraction of included study characteristics and results and risk of bias assessment. Our primary outcome was reduction in gambling symptom severity. Our secondary outcomes were reduction in gambling expenditure, gambling frequency, time spent gambling, depressive symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and functional impairment; and responder status. We evaluated treatment effects for continuous and dichotomous outcomes using standardised mean difference (SMD) and risk ratios (RR), respectively, employing random-effects meta-analyses. A minimum of two independent treatment effects were required for a meta-analysis to be conducted (with only meta-analytic findings reported in this abstract).
Main results: We included 17 studies in the review (n = 1193 randomised) that reported outcome data scheduled for end of treatment. Length of treatment ranged from 7 to 96 weeks. Antidepressants: Six studies (n = 268) evaluated antidepressants, with very low to low certainty evidence suggesting that antidepressants were no more effective than placebo at post-treatment: gambling symptom severity (SMD -0.32, 95% CI -0.74 to 0.09, n = 225), gambling expenditure (SMD -0.27, 95% CI -0.60 to 0.06, n = 144), depressive symptoms (SMD -0.19, 95% CI -0.60 to 0.23, n = 90), functional impairment (SMD -0.15, 95% CI -0.53 to 0.22, n = 110), and responder status (RR 1.24, 95% CI 0.93 to 1.66, n = 268). Opioid antagonists: Four studies (n = 562) evaluated opioid antagonists, with very low to low certainty evidence showing a medium beneficial effect of treatment on gambling symptom severity relative to placebo at post-treatment (SMD -0.46, 95% CI -0.74 to -0.19, n = 259), but no difference between groups in responder status (RR 1.65, 95% CI 0.86 to 3.14, n = 562). Mood stabilisers: Two studies (n = 71) evaluated mood stabilisers (including anticonvulsants), with very low certainty evidence suggesting that mood stabilisers were no more effective than placebo at post-treatment: gambling symptom severity (SMD -0.92, 95% CI -2.24 to 0.39, n = 71), depressive symptoms (SMD -0.15, 95% CI -1.14 to 0.83, n = 71), and anxiety symptoms (SMD -0.17, 95% CI -0.64 to 0.30, n = 71). Atypical antipsychotics:Two studies (n = 63) evaluated the atypical antipsychotic olanzapine, with very low certainty evidence showing a medium beneficial effect of treatment on gambling symptom severity relative to placebo at post-treatment (SMD -0.59, 95% CI -1.10 to -0.08, n = 63). Comparative effectiveness: Two studies (n = 62) compared antidepressants with opioid antagonists, with very low certainty evidence indicating that antidepressants were no more effective than opioid antagonists on depressive symptoms (SMD 0.22, 95% CI -0.29 to 0.72, n = 62) or anxiety symptoms (SMD 0.21, 95% CI -0.29 to 0.72, n = 62) at post-treatment. Two studies (n = 58) compared antidepressants with mood stabilisers (including anticonvulsants), with very low certainty evidence indicating that antidepressants were no more effective than mood stabilisers on depressive symptoms (SMD 0.02, 95% CI -0.53 to 0.56, n = 58) or anxiety symptoms (SMD 0.16, 95% CI -0.39 to 0.70, n = 58) at post-treatment. Tolerability and adverse events: Several common adverse effects were reported by participants receiving antidepressants (e.g. headaches, nausea, diarrhoea/gastrointestinal issues) and opioid antagonists (e.g. nausea, dry mouth, constipation). There was little consistency in the types of adverse effects experienced by participants receiving mood stabilisers (e.g. tiredness, headaches, concentration difficulties) or atypical antipsychotics (e.g. pneumonia, sedation, increased hypomania). Discontinuation of treatment due to these adverse events was highest for opioid antagonists (10% to 32%), followed by antidepressants (4% to 31%), atypical antipsychotics (14%), and mood stabilisers (13%).
Authors' conclusions: This review provides preliminary support for the use of opioid antagonists (naltrexone, nalmefene) and atypical antipsychotics (olanzapine) to produce short-term improvements in gambling symptom severity, although a lack of available evidence precludes a conclusion regarding the degree to which these pharmacological agents can improve other gambling or psychological functioning indices. In contrast, the findings are inconclusive with regard to the effects of mood stabilisers (including anticonvulsants) in the treatment of disordered or problem gambling, and there is limited evidence to support the efficacy of antidepressants. However, these conclusions are based on very low to low certainty evidence characterised by a small number of included studies, high risk of bias, modest pooled sample sizes, imprecise estimates, moderate between-study heterogeneity, and exclusion of participants with psychiatric comorbidities. Moreover, there were insufficient studies to conduct meta-analyses on many outcome measures; to compare efficacy across and within major categories of interventions; to explore dosage effects; or to examine effects beyond post-treatment. These limitations suggest that, despite recommendations related to the administration of opioid antagonists in the treatment of disordered or problem gambling, pharmacological interventions should be administered with caution and with careful consideration of patient needs. A larger and more methodologically rigorous evidence base with longer-term evaluation periods is required before definitive conclusions can be drawn about the effectiveness and durability of pharmacological treatments for disordered or problem gambling.
Copyright © 2022 The Cochrane Collaboration. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.