One Medication for Alcohol and Nicotine Addiction
> 3/5/2009 3:20:50 PM

Unhealthy drinking and smoking behavior frequently occur together. This combination is quite dangerous, as tobacco-related diseases are the most frequent cause of death among alcoholics, but it also may represent an opportunity to treat two problems with one remedy. Recent studies have found neurochemical links between alcohol and nicotine addiction, and Dr. Sherry McKee’s work, published this month in Biological Psychiatry, now suggests that one medication can combat both addictions.

Dr. McKee tested varenicline, a nicotine receptor antagonist used as a smoking cessation aid, on a group of subjects who were both daily smokers and heavy drinkers. One group of these subjects was given varenicline for a week and then given the opportunity to consume up to 8 alcoholic drinks, while the other group was given placebo in the week prior to temptation. Neither group knew whether they had received an active medication, but the varenicline group reported significantly reduced subjective responses to alcohol, such as less craving and less pleasure from the drinks they did consume.

The varenicline group’s feeling that they were more able to resist alcohol was confirmed by the finding that they were more successful in both reducing the number of drinks they consumed (2.6 fewer drinks on average) and abstaining entirely (80% abstaining compared to 30% in placebo group).

Importantly, there were no significant side effects to varenicline, even when combined with large amounts of alcohol. This opens the door for the development of cessation medications that can safely and effectively combat multiple addictions at the same time. As nicotine and alcohol addiction so often coexist and reinforce each other, such dual-purpose medications would be extremely helpful.

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