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Baldness Drug Propecia May Curb Thirst for Alcohol

Men with sexual side effects appear to drink less, even after they stop taking the drug
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WebMD News from HealthDay

By Steven Reinberg

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- Some men who use finasteride (Propecia) to help battle baldness may also be drinking less alcohol, a new study suggests.

Among the potential side effects of the hair-restoring drug are a reduced sex drive, depression and suicidal thoughts. And it's men who have sexual side effects who also appear to want to drink less, the researchers report.

"In men experiencing persistent sexual side effects despite stopping finasteride, two-thirds have noticed drinking less alcohol than before taking finasteride," said study author Dr. Michael Irwig, an assistant professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.

Although it isn't clear why the medication might have this effect, Irwig thinks the drug may alter the brain's chemistry.

"Finasteride interferes with the brain's ability to make certain hormones called neurosteroids, which are likely linked to drinking alcohol," he said.

"For younger men contemplating the use of finasteride for male pattern hair loss, they should carefully balance the modest cosmetic benefits of less hair loss versus some of the serious risks," Irwig said.

The report was published online June 13 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

"The biggest challenge with this finding is that it is naturalistic rather than a controlled study so cause-and-effect is hard to establish," said James Garbutt, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "This is more of a cloud on the horizon than a clear-cut effect."

If these findings are confirmed it suggests there may be a subgroup of people, perhaps identifiable by their experience of sexual side effects, who will experience reductions in alcohol consumption, said Garbutt, who was not involved with the study.

"Based on the consumption levels reported in the paper, this population would be considered social drinkers and not problem drinkers," he added.

It is unclear if these people will begin to drink more again once they have stopped taking the drug for a long enough period of time, Garbutt noted.

But he did note a potential silver lining in the finding.

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