New Drug Helps Drinkers Stay on the Wagon
Acamprosate works with an entirely different system in the brain, the
glutamate system, which becomes hyperactive during alcohol withdrawal and can
remain hyperactive for up to a year of abstinence, says Mason. Acamprosate
appears to normalize the activity of that system.
The drug also seems to be tolerated better by more people, she adds. Where
naltrexone may exacerbate an existing liver problem, acamprosate is absorbed in
the gastrointestinal tract and reaches an effective level within one week.
Also, acamprosate can be safely taken by people with other addictions, such as
heroin addicts. "So it's useful with a broader range of patients, both in
terms of medical problems and polysubstance abuse," says Mason.
reputation is top-notch in the field of alcohol research," says Joy
Schmitz, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at
the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in Houston. Schmitz is the lead
researcher in a four-year study of naltrexone and the nicotine patch in
treating alcoholism and smoking, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism.
"The more medications we have available ?
each of them targeting it from a different angle, it can only help, because no
one alcoholic is like the next one," Schmitz tells WebMD. "Some respond
more to one type of approach. Down the road, it would be nice to try to better
match what kind of alcohol-dependent person benefits most from what
The trial was funded by Lipha Pharmaceuticals,
the drug's developer.
An experimental drug called acamprosate has
been shown to curb the urge to drink alcohol and increases abstinence among
alcoholics by 10-25%.
The drug is safe for patients with liver
problems or those also being treated for other addictions, such as
During alcohol withdrawal, the glutamate system
of the brain remains hyperactive for up to a year of abstinence, but
acamprosate works to normalize that system.