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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Drug to Treat Nausea Also May Help Alcoholics Stop Drinking

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"About 95% of the kids in our adolescent center fit the profile," Mulligan tells WebMD. "They know they are different, and it is good that they know that. We believe that substituting the risk-taking behavior of drinking for some other risk-taking behavior is important. We take our young people rock climbing."

Drug therapies are not widely used to treat alcoholism, mainly because they have not been shown to be very effective in the past. There currently are only two drugs approved for use in the U.S. -- Antabuse (disulfiram), which makes people sick when they drink, and ReVia (naltrexone), which seems to dull the rewarding or "buzz" effect of alcohol. A third drug, acamprosate, which works by curbing cravings for alcohol, is expected to win FDA approval soon.

Although Zofran affects the brain's serotonin levels, it works in an opposite way from widely prescribed antidepressants that affect the serotonin system, known as SSRIs, such as Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), and Paxil (paroxetine), Johnson says.

"A few years ago, when we learned that these genetically predisposed alcoholics had a deficiency in serotonin, it was widely believed the SSRIs like Prozac would help these people stop drinking, but that has not proven to be the case," Johnson says. "That's why our findings are so exciting. This serotonin interaction seems to help."

Although Zofran is widely available, it can be expensive, with a 30-day supply of the 4 mg tablets ranging from about $450 to more than $600, according to an informal survey of pharmacies across the country.

About three-fourths of the patients enrolled in the San Antonio study received varying doses of the drug and the others received a placebo. Johnson says those patients receiving Zofran reported that they had a decreased craving for alcohol, and that drinking did not give them the same "rush" as it had in the past. All of the patients, regardless of whether they were given the drug or a placebo, received behavioral therapy.

The alcoholics who took Zofran stayed away from alcohol 70% of the time, compared to 50% of the time for those who took a placebo.

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