A pill that makes alcoholics want to drink less has been developed by scientists for the first time, a conference has been told.
The drug is thought to work by blocking mechanisms in the brain that give alcoholics enjoyment from drink and so helps them fight the urge to drink too much. It only needed to be taken when people were going out where they might be tempted to drink alcohol. Alcoholics taking the drug and having counselling more than halved the amount of alcohol they drank per day and binged on fewer days. The findings were presented at the European Psychiatric Association (EPA) congress in Prague.
The drug, developed by Lundbeck pharmaceutical company, called nalmefene is not licensed yet and is currently going through clinical trials. There are other drugs on the market that make addicts ill if they drink any alcohol at all but this is thought to be the first aimed at reducing the amount of alcohol consumed. Side effects included dizziness, nausea, fatigue, sleep disorder or insomnia, vomiting, cold-like symptoms or excessive sweating.
Dr David Collier, of Barts and The London School of Medicine, Queen Mary University of London and an investigator in a nalmefene study, said: “The people volunteering for these trials had real problems with alcohol dependence, most had never sought help before, and others had tried and failed with abstinence strategies – stopping drinking for good.”
“Abstinence is the right option for many people, but not everyone wants to do that, and in those that do try, it helps only about half of them. From our experience in these trials, reducing alcohol consumption to safer levels can be a realistic and practical treatment goal for people who are dependent on alcohol, that can bring many short- and longer-term benefits to health.”
“These trial results suggest that the combination of medication and counselling could offer a new option for people in the UK not currently treated for their alcohol dependence.” There are thought to be 1.6m people addicted to alcohol who are not currently being treated.
Andrew Langford, Chief Executive of The British Liver Trust said: “We are genuinely worried about the increasing numbers of people from all walks of life with alcohol problems who are functioning seemingly well with their lives yet have built up a need for alcohol. Many feel that they need to drink just to feel normal, increasing potential negative effects on their physical and emotional health, including liver disease such as cirrhosis and liver cancer.”
In the study, nalmefene was used as needed by the patients, who took one tablet only when they perceived that there was a risk of drinking alcohol. Both the nalmefene and placebo groups of the study received counselling to maximise their motivation to reduce their alcohol intake, and ensure they continued to take the medicine.
Over six months in the trial the average amount of alcohol consumed per day reduced from 84g per day – the equivalent to a bottle of wine – to 30g per day or a large glass of wine. The number of days they drank heavily reduced from 19 to seven in those taking the drug alongside counselling.
The large study was conducted with 604 patients in Austria, Finland, Germany and Sweden.
Source: www. WiredIn.org.uk 6th March 2012