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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 continuous abstinence.

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 placebo group.

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 treat depression.

"Some people will do fine with drug treatments alone, but others may need more intensive interventions," he says.

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