A Pill Could Help Tame Binge Drinking, Study Shows

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Feb. 14, 2023 -- A medicine used to treat people with severe alcohol disorders could also be helpful for others against binge drinking, a study says.

The drug, naltrexone, blocks endorphins and reduces the feelings of happiness that come with drinking. It’s been approved for three decades to treat people with alcohol dependence and usually is given daily to patients with more severe alcohol disorders to help them choose not to drink, The New York Times reported.

Binge drinking means having more than four drinks in a sitting for men and more than three for women. Almost half of American drinkers say they’ve binged within the last month, the government says. Although only a low percentage of binge drinkers reportedly are dependent on drinking, it can still cause illness and injury and lead to a worse problem.

The study was published in December in the American Journal of Psychiatry. It involved 120 men, with half receiving a placebo and half being given naltrexone to take before they planned to drink heavily or when they felt a craving. Over 12 weeks, they also received counseling to help them lower their alcohol intake.

Those given the drug reported less binge drinking and consuming less alcohol than those given the placebo.

A similar protocol is “widely embraced” in Europe, the Times reported.

Study results could help lead to treatment before addiction – even for “far more people, like the study’s participants,” the paper said, such as those with mild or moderate alcohol disorders.

“If we attack the medical problem right away and early on, you cannot only treat the problem but prevent the development of the more severe forms of the disease,” said Lorenzo Leggio, MD, of the National Institutes of Health.