Seizure Drug May Treat Alcoholism
Study Shows Fewer Heavy Drinking Days for Patients Treated With Topamax
Fewer Drinks and Drinking Days continued...
"I think that is a big difference," he says. "Most people can
manage that amount of alcohol without getting into too much trouble."
The researchers reported that Topamax users had a greater rate of achieving
28 or more days of continuous nonheavy drinking during the study and 28 days of
But they were also more likely to drop out of the trials due to side
effects, with 34 doing so in the Topamax group compared with just eight in the
Half of the Topamax users experienced burning or prickling sensations in
their extremities, compared with 20% of placebo-treated patients. Concentration
problems, loss of appetite, and a distorted sense of taste were also more
common compared with those taking placebo.
But Johnson says most of these side effects disappear over time. Some of his
alcohol-dependent patients have been taking Topamax for as long as two years,
and he says they will likely stay on it.
"I think we are about to see a paradigm shift in the treatment of
alcohol dependence," he says. "This treatment and the other drug
treatments offer people an alternative that they haven't had before."
Drugs to Stop Drinking
Addiction treatment expert Mark L. Willenbring, MD, agrees, but adds that
drugs should not be seen as a replacement for today's most widely used nondrug
treatments like rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous.
He points out that only 10% to 20% of people with alcohol dependence develop
the most severe form of the illness, and only about 12% of all
alcohol-dependent people ever receive professional treatment.
Willenbring is director of the treatment and recovery research division of
the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
"One of the goals of the Institute is to promote research into
treatments for earlier and less severe stages of alcohol dependence," he
says. "These people are struggling, but they don't seek treatment."
The hope, he says, is that within five to 10 years drug treatments will
become common for the treatment of alcohol dependence, in the same way that
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants are now used to
"Some people will do fine with drug treatments alone, but others may
need more intensive interventions," he says.