Anti-smoking drug Varenicline found to help curb alcohol addiction

15 July, 2007:

A drug developed to help smokers quit the habit has been found to reduce dependence on alcohol.

A study, conducted by a team led by Dr Selena Bartlett, director of the Preclinical Development Group at the University of California at San Francisco-affiliated Gallo Clinic and Research Center, shows that Varenicline, marketed by Pfizer under the name Chantix, has the potential to curtail excessive alcohol consumption.

Dr Selena Bartlett, neuroscientist, says: “There are very few effective medicines to treat alcoholism. Our hope is that this drug will provide a new and improved method for treating alcoholism.”

In the study, laboratory rats trained for months to consume high amounts of alcohol reduced their drinking in half after taking Chantix. The drug has a similar effect on curbing smoking.

According to the United States’ National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 85% of alcoholics are smokers. Dr Selena Bartlett says smoking and drinking are highly linked and so the new drug would make it possible to get two birds with one shot: get people to quit their nicotine habit and also keep them away from alcohol.

Chantix works this way: When alcohol or nicotine is consumed, a chemical called dopamine is released in the brain, creating temporary good feelings. Chantix latches onto those same receptors, blocking the release of dopamine, which in turn blocks the cravings for nicotine or alcohol.

Currently, there are three drugs to treat alcohol dependency, all of them having side effects, including naltrexone, the most effective of the three. Naltrexone causes lowering of the patient’s appetite.

Chantix induces the same behavior in the animals as currently available drugs prescribed to control alcoholism. In fact, the drug was found to be better than those currently prescribed to fight alcoholism: The patient’s appetite remains undiminished with this drug, which is not the case with patients currently combating alcohol dependency.

It has been founds that Chantix does not kill appetite as is the case with the most effective of drugs that is used to treat alcohol dependency.

Though Chantix has great potential, Dr Selena Bartlett has cautioned against thinking of it as a magic pill. Explains she: “Developing drugs is a long process and we are just in the beginning. Our results are promising, but we don’t want people to think this is a cure-all.”




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