Anti-smoking drug Chantix works for alcohol too

According to researchers a popular anti-smoking pill may also curb the urge to drink alcohol.

The drug varenicline is already on the market under the brand name Chantix to help smokers kick the habit but new preliminary research now suggests it could also be useful in helping heavy drinkers quit.

The research which was carried out on rats provided the rodents with intermittent access to 40 proof alcohol for four months and by varying the access to the liquor supply the rats were made to crave it.

The researchers say every time the rodents had access to booze, they upped their intake and drank all day and withdrawing the alcohol made them want to drink even more.

After months of this behaviour and a total of 37 binge-drinking sessions, all the rats cut their drinking in half when given varenicline.

When taken off the drug, the rats did not immediately imbibe more, a rebound effect that has affected other treatments.

Varenicline has been available as a smoking cessation aid for nearly a year in the U.S. and the European Union, and as well as being safe it does not suppress the appetite and is not metabolized in the liver.

Bartlett says this is a major plus because long term drinkers often have liver damage.

According to the researchers the drug targets a pleasure center in the brain and has the potential to be considered as a treatment for addictions such as gambling and painkillers.

Varenicline works by latching onto the same receptors in the brain that nicotine binds to when inhaled in cigarette smoke, an action that leads to the release of dopamine in the brain's pleasure centers; the drug blocks any inhaled nicotine from reinforcing that effect.

The new study suggests alcohol also acts on the same locations in the brain and varenicline, might be equally as effective for curbing drinking.

Selena Bartlett, a University of California neuroscientist who led the study says the drug has already proven itself safe for people trying to stop smoking and is now a potential drug to fight alcohol dependence.

Experts say smoking and drinking often go together and a single drug able to tackle both addictions is not surprising.

The researchers at the University of California along with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, plan to conduct clinical trials in humans of the drug's effectiveness in curbing alcohol cravings and dependence.

The drug is already approved by Food and Drug Administration and this should speed the process up.

But skeptics warn that varenicline does not work for all smokers and it's highly unlikely it will work for all drinkers and some experts insist there is a common biological basis for addictions to both alcohol and tobacco.

Although drug company Pfizer provided the drug for the study it was not involved in the research and is apparently undecided whether to seek broader FDA approval for the drug.

The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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