A study published in the September issue of Biological Psychiatry indicates supplementation with N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) may reduce addictive behavior in compulsive gamblers, as well as individuals with other addictions.
N-acetyl cysteine is thought to restore extracellular concentrations of the chemical glutamate, which is often associated with reward in the brain. This ability led researchers to believe NAC could have a promising role to play in minimizing addictive behavior.
The researchers enrolled 27 pathological gamblers (12 women) in an 8-week trial of NAC. The first part of the study was an open trial where subjects each consumed daily doses of NAC. In this part of the study, 16 of 27 subjects (59.3 percent) reported experiencing less urges to gamble. The effective dose of NAC ranged from 1,100 to 1,700 mg per day.
Of those 16 subjects, 13 went on to participate in a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of NAC. Of those subjects given NAC, 83.3 percent experienced a reduced compulsion to gamble compared with only 28.6 percent of those assigned to a placebo.
The study authors concluded, “The efficacy of NAC lends support to the hypothesis that pharmacological manipulation of the glutamate system might target core symptoms of reward-seeking addictive behaviors such as gambling. Larger, longer, placebo-controlled, double-blind studies are warranted.”
Similar studies of N-acetyl cysteine have shown it can curb drug addictions in animals. However, the researchers of the current study believe their study was the first to look at the effects of a glutamate-modulating agent in pathological gamblers. The researchers are currently investigating whether NAC could help methamphetamine users quit.