Researchers in Alberta are testing a drug used to treat alcoholics and opioid addicts in the hopes it can help curb the urge to gamble.

Scientists know that a win at the blackjack table or slot machine unleashes a wave of chemicals that make a gambler feel good, just like drugs or alcohol do for an addict.

“With the ups and downs of the play and so forth, that’s very rewarding in a neurobiological sense and can lead to addictions,” said David Hodgins, a professor of psychology at the University of Calgary who studies addictions.

Naltrexone, a drug used to help those addicted to alcohol, heroin, morphine, oxycodone and other opioids has been shown to reduce a gambler’s cravings. Researchers are recruiting problem gamblers  in order to find out why and how it works.

“This is a treatment that could be successful, especially if you have a high urge to gamble and that is not going away from counselling or whatever other types of treatment you’re using,” said Darren Christensen, a University of Lethbridge health sciences professor who holds a research chair in gambling.

Study participants will be given the drug and then undergo MRIs to track changes in the part of their brains that govern impulse and reward.

“We’re also managing or looking at the brain images to see whether the area of the brain that is affected by gambling is changed when they are on naltrexone,” said Dr. Ron Lim, a physician specializing in addiction and a professor at the University of Calgary.

The possibility of a pharmaceutical treatment for problem gambling is welcome news to Craig Munro. He says gambling was ruining his life.

“I’d miss appointments with my friends. I’d miss doctors’ appointments. I’d sometimes call in sick for work,” he said.

“You’re so comfortable being in the negative and using negative stimuli to give you momentary lapses of what you think is happiness.”

But Munro hasn’t gambled on a video lottery terminal for almost six months.

“I feel like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders.”

With a report from CTV Calgary