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Quit-Smoking Drug May Curb Alcoholism

Smoking-Cessation Drug Chantix Reduces Drinking in Lab Tests on Alcoholic Rats
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

July 10, 2007 -- The quit-smoking drug Chantix may help treat alcoholism, a new study shows.

The Chantix study was conducted on alcoholic rats. But the results were promising, so the researchers plan to start testing Chantix on alcoholism in people this year.

"Eighty-five percent of alcoholics smoke, and drinking and smoking tend to go hand in hand," researcher Selena Bartlett, PhD, tells WebMD.

Bartlett directs the preclinical development group at the University of California, San Francisco's Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center.

Bartlett and colleagues report that alcoholic rats halved their alcohol consumption when injected with the active ingredient in Chantix.

"This is not a cure for addiction," says Bartlett. But she notes that Chantix is already on the market for smoking cessation and has been proven safe in people as a quit-smoking drug.

"No one had tried it on alcohol before, and that's what we did, in animals," says Bartlett.

The FDA approved Chantix in May 2006 to help cigarette smokers quit smoking. The drug comes in tablets and is approved for 12 weeks of treatment, though some patients may need to take Chantix for a longer period of time for smoking cessation.

Chantix and Alcoholism Study

Bartlett's team trained rats to drink large amounts of alcohol. That induced alcohol dependence, which is commonly called alcoholism.

The researchers injected varenicline, the active ingredient in Chantix, into some of the alcoholic rats. For comparison, other alcoholic rats didn't get Chantix.

The rats got roughly the same varenicline dose that rats get in nicotine studies. Those doses cut the rats' alcohol consumption by about 50%, Bartlett says.

The results came as a surprise.

Bartlett says she hadn't expected Chantix to be particularly effective in alcoholic rats that weren't also given nicotine. But the drug defied those predictions.

The rats had been drinking heavily for months, notes Bartlett. "This is not something that will just work if you have one or two drinks a week and take the drug. It's not that kind of drug," she predicts.

Chantix didn't affect other rats' taste for plain water or sugary water, the study also shows.

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