A new study by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a part of the National Institutes of Health, has discovered a new drug that targets brain regions most active during stress, as an effort to reduce alcohol consumption in individuals suffering from alcohol use disorder (AUD). The drug also reduced patients’ craving for cigarettes.
Researchers, led by acting director of the Division of Medications Development, NIAAA, Dr Ray Litten, conducted a randomized clinical trial of a new compound, called ABT-436, designed to block the effects of vasopressin, a neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus of the brain that increases blood pressure.
The results were published online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Dr Litten elaborated the findings by saying, “Vasopressin helps to regulate the pituitary adrenal axis and other brain circuits involved in emotion. As such, it plays a role in regulating stress, anxiety, and their interaction with AUD.”
Dr Litten, first author Megan Ryan and their NIAAA colleagues, worked with NIAAA’s multi-center Clinical Investigations Group to recruit 144 alcohol-dependent adult men and women for the study, which lasted for 3 months.
During a 28-day baseline period, male participants consumed at least 35 drinks per week, while the female subjects consumed at least 28 drinks per week. Participants were divided in two groups, the group that received the ABT-436 drug while the other group received the placebo tablets.
The researchers also monitored participants’ behavior in respect to alcohol consumption, changes in mood and smoking patterns as these factors are often confounded with drinking alcohol.
The results showed that individuals who received ABT-436 treatment underwent more days of alcohol abstinence than those who received the placebo pills. Participants who reported high stress levels appeared to respond better to the drug. What this meant was that both the frequency of their drinking and the number of heavy drinking sessions they experienced had reduced.
Clinical Project Manager in the NIAAA Division of Medications Development and study’s first author, Ryan, said, “Our findings suggest that potential future studies with drugs targeting vasopressin blockade should focus on populations of people with AUD who also report high levels of stress.”
Smokers may be another population that could benefit from ABT-436. In addition to its effects on alcohol consumption, study participants receiving the new compound experienced a reduction in smoking. The researchers suspect that ABT-436 might be targeting the same areas in the brain that relate to withdrawal and stress, and in the process, influencing both tobacco and alcohol use disorders. Additional research is needed to determine if that is the case.
Smokers can also benefit from the drug, according to the researchers. In addition to ABT-436’s effects on alcohol consumption, study participants receiving the new drug also experienced a reduction in smoking.
No significant differences were found between treatment groups on any other measures of drinking, alcohol craving or alcohol-related consequences. The drug was tolerated and the only adverse reaction to the treatment observed was diarrhea, of mild to moderate severity.
Moreover, participants with relatively higher stress levels at baseline responded better to ABT-436 than placebo tablets on select drinking outcomes. This suggested that there is a lot of potential in testing medications targeting the vasopressin receptor in stressful, alcohol dependent patients.
This study is quite vital for prolonging life and helping patients get rid of this addiction. It is not surprising the damage alcohol can do to one’s body. Alcohol is a commonly abused drug which can lead to social and economic burdens. Worldwide, 3.3 million deaths every year result from alcohol abuse, which represents 5.9% of all deaths.
The harmful use of alcohol is an originating factor in more than 200 diseases and injury conditions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Its production, availability and ease of access varies from country to country and depends on the relevant rules and regulations set by the responsible governing bodies.
Previous studies have shown other sort of unorthodox methods of reducing symptoms of AUD. According to a recently published report in the American Journal of Psychiatry (AJP), released at the annual meeting of American Psychiatry Association (APA) held in Atlanta, there is a strong link between marriage and alcohol use disorder (AUD). The study found that marriage reduces the risk of developing alcohol use disorder.
The researchers observed that compared to individuals who were single, individuals who are married have a substantially reduced likelihood of suffering from AUD. This reduction in the risk of developing AUD was significantly found in both genders: married men showed a 60% reduction while married women had a 71% reduction in the likelihood of developing AUD.
As scientists recently discovered 97 new areas of the brain, scientists might discover more precise regions of the brain that have a direct impact on the way we develop and react to addictions. What this essentially means is that we might diagnose addiction disorders more accurately and may even find an actual cure.