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Quit-Smoking Drug May Curb Alcoholism

Smoking-Cessation Drug Chantix Reduces Drinking in Lab Tests on Alcoholic Rats

Alcoholism Experts Weigh In

The Chantix findings "look very promising," Marcus Heilig, MD, PhD, tells WebMD.

Heilig is the clinical director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). He wasn't involved in Bartlett's lab tests and is working to develop other new alcoholism drugs.

"Lately, neuroscience has been bringing forward a number of interesting new candidate targets, but that's just a fraction of the job," Heilig says.

"There are all these enormous hurdles of bringing molecules forward that will hit those targets and will make it all the way to the clinic. And that's compounded by the fact that industry doesn't necessarily always want to pursue development in this area. Well, here's a compound that's already passed all those hurdles," he says of Chantix.

"We know that it [Chantix] is safe and well tolerated, and that -- combined with the promise of some efficacy for reduction of heavy alcohol drinking -- is enormously encouraging," says Heilig.

However, he says it's very rare to find a drug that's a "magic bullet" against complex, chronic disorders such as alcoholism.

"For complex, chronic disorders, we need a range of therapies and then once we get that range, we need to figure out which patients benefit the most from which [therapies]," says Heilig.

Chantix Not Ready for Alcoholism Treatment

Heilig's NIAAA colleague, Howard Moss, MD, cautions people not to use Chantix for alcoholism treatment yet.

"We eagerly await the clinical trial to see if it actually works in humans," Moss tells WebMD. "I just want to be sure that people understand that they shouldn't just try this on their own."

Bartlett's study "is pretty exciting," says Moss, who is the associate director for clinical and translational research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

"But there have been occasions where medications have worked great in animal models but have failed to live up to their promise in humans," says Moss.

In June, Moss and colleagues identified five subtypes of alcoholics -- and reported that more than half of U.S. alcoholics are young adults.

At the time, Moss told WebMD that people who suspect they may have a problem with alcohol to talk about it with their health care provider, since alcohol dependence "must be viewed as a severe disease."

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