A drug that helps people quit smoking may also help heavy drinkers reduce the amount they drink, thereby reducing their harmful alcohol consumption. A study of the drug varenicline, marketed as Chantix, significantly reduced the use of a group of heavy-drinking smokers seeking treatment for smoking rather than alcohol. Researchers believe the drug could potentially be a new treatment for those who need to reduce their levels of harmful drinking.
At the Wheeler Center for Neurobiology of Addiction at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and at the University of California Research Center at San Francisco, researchers studied 64 patients who sought smoking cessation treatment over a 16-week period..One part of the group received Chantix and the other a placebo.
The average number of drinks is reduced
Participants who took Chantix reduced their average number of drinks per week by 35.32% compared to those who took the placebo. The researchers found that the drug’s effects on drinking were separate from the effects on smoking – there was no correlation between the average number of drinks and the average number of cigarettes they smoked.
The study found that Chantix did not reduce the number of days per week that participants drank, but rather the number of beverages they consumed while drinking.
“People started drinking at the same rate, but they drank less than they started,” said lead author Jennifer Mitchell. “If your usual pattern was to come home and have a few beers, you would still do that, but you could have one or two instead of four or five.”..
Reducing harmful drinking
The authors concluded that Chantix could potentially be of value in reducing the harm caused by alcohol abuse. “If you currently have seven drinks a night and we can make two or three of them, then not only are you drinking at levels that are less harmful to you, but others too. We could reduce the rate of drunk driving, spouse and child abuse as well Lower other secondary effects of alcoholism that would be enormous, “Mitchell said in a press release...
Chantix helps people quit smoking by blocking the pleasant effects of nicotine on the brain. The authors believe that alcohol and nicotine share a common pathway in the brain to convey feelings of pleasure and reward.
Low side effects in controlled groups
However, the downside to Chantix is the negative side effects of depression and suicidal thoughts. In this study, the researchers said the side effects were minor and decreased over time. However, this could be due to the fact that participants were carefully screened for mental disorders prior to entering the study...
More research is needed to investigate side effects such as depression and thoughts of suicide. If you have thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for the support and assistance of a trained advisor. If you or a loved one is in imminent danger, call 911.
Additional mental health resources can be found in our National Helpline Database.
The researchers recommend future studies involving participants with comorbid mental illnesses as well as heavy drinkers who do not smoke.