Alcoholism presents an urgent public health issue in the United States. According to the National Institute on Alcohol and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health, nearly 90,000 people die each year as a direct result of alcoholism, making it one of the leading causes of death nationwide. These numbers don’t include those who die as an indirect result of alcohol abuse – for example, those who die in motor vehicle accidents where a drunk driver was involved.
There are several methods for alcoholism intervention including lifestyle modifications, behavioral changes, and medications. Multi-disciplinary approaches are the most successful, and an addict must have a lifelong commitment to sobriety. Medications can help reduce cravings and allow a recovering alcoholic to adapt to a new way of living. A recent study from the University of California-Los Angeles brings hope to those suffering from alcohol addiction.
Ibudilast Helps Recovering Alcoholics
An anti-inflammatory drug, primarily used by asthmatics in Japan, has shown promising results in a recent study. In the first study of its kind, researchers examined whether Ibudilast would be a viable treatment option for alcoholics. They chose 17 men and women who reported drinking at least 21 days per month, and an average of 7 drinks each time they drank. Participants were given either a dose of Ibudilast (20mg for two days, and 50 mg for four days) or a placebo.
The study groups were given a two-week break, and then those who were on Ibudilast were given a placebo, and those on the placebo, Ibudilast. Researchers found that those on Ibudilast experienced significantly lower cravings while on the medication. To measure cravings, researchers presented subjects with their preferred alcoholic drink. They were asked to hold it, but weren’t allowed to drink. Those on Ibudilast reported they were not only less inclined to drink, but were in a better mood compared to those on the placebo.
Effective, With Minimal Side Effects
When a new drug shows promise in the treatment of addiction, many wonder if the side effects will be worth the result. According to researchers, Ibudilast is relatively safe and has minimal side effects. On the sixth day of the experiment, participants were given an intravenous infusion of alcohol, the equivalent of about four drinks. They found that Ibudilast was safe for patients to use while drinking, and is well-tolerated.
Patients reported side effects of some mild nausea and abdominal pain. None of the patients dropped out of the study, which is usually another indication of uncomfortable side effects.
The Alcohol-Stress Connection
Alcohol and stress are inextricably connected because alcohol triggers the release of the stress hormone, Cortisol. Additionally, alcoholics often cite stress as a factor in their drinking, since it helps them “mellow out.” This creates a vicious cycle of stress, alcohol, and anxiety. To further test the efficacy of Ibudilast, researchers tested the effect of the drug on the subject’s stress response. At the beginning of the study, researchers asked each participant to identify a source of stress in their lives. On the fifth day, they asked targeted questions about that source of stress. They found that those on the drug experienced an improved attitude about their stress trigger, compared to those on the placebo.
In particular, the treatment appeared to help those with depression symptoms, which are also common in those who abuse alcohol. Researchers posit it works by decreasing the pleasurable effects of alcohol.
Why Does Ibudilast Work?
The exact mechanisms of action are complex, but Ibudilast essentially works by reducing brain inflammation. Chronic alcohol consumption has been shown to create increased brain inflammation in rats, but researchers were unsure if humans were the same. After extensive animal testing that found rats tolerated Ibudilast well with minimal side effects, scientists were cautiously optimistic.
A common problem in the development of new medications is while preclinical trials may show minimal side effects in animals, humans show more severe symptoms in clinical trials. The fact that Ibudilast is well-tolerated is groundbreaking.
Ibudilast appears to reduce cravings and stress-related symptoms by reducing inflammation in the brain, just as it has in rats. This finding comes at a critical time, as the FDA currently has only four approved treatments for alcoholism.
A New Medication, A New Hope
While this study shows promise, researchers say to not run to the pharmacy just yet. In order to gain FDA approval, Ibudilast must endure years of clinical trials and testing. Still, it is comforting to know an effective treatment for alcoholism is in the process, giving people with addiction access to more robust treatment options in the future.
New Treatments Make Recovery from even Acute Alcohol Addiction Possible and Painless
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