Quit-Smoking Drug May Curb Alcoholism
Smoking-Cessation Drug Chantix Reduces Drinking in Lab Tests on Alcoholic Rats
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
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
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
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
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.
Why would a quit-smoking drug work on alcoholism?
Nicotine and alcohol both affect a certain brain receptor, and Chantix
targets that brain receptor, Bartlett explains.
"The bottom line is they're working on similar mechanisms," Bartlett
says of nicotine and alcohol. She says she had heard about Chantix about two
and a half years ago, when the drug was still in development, and wanted to
test it against alcoholism as soon as possible.
The study appears in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings
of the National Academy of Sciences.
Chantix is made by the drug company Pfizer, which provided varenicline for
the study but didn't fund the lab tests. The researchers note no conflicts of