Ibudilast, an anti-inflammatory drug used to treat asthma, appears to reduce alcohol cravings and may help people beat alcoholism, says a study conducted at UCLA.
The study evaluated men and women who said they drank alcohol on an average of 21 days a month and drank seven drinks on the days when they drank.
The volunteers were divided two groups. One group was given 20 milligrams of the drug for two days and then 50 milligrams for the next four days. The second group received a placebo for six days. After a two-week break, the second group was given ibudilast while the first group took a placebo.
Researchers found that the drug, which is used mainly in Japan, significantly reduced the subjects' craving for alcohol.
On the sixth day of each phase of the study, volunteers received an intravenous dose of alcohol, which was the equivalent of about four drinks, to gauge how the medicine interacts with alcohol and whether it can be safely taken when people are drinking.
"We found that ibudilast is safe and well-tolerated," said Lara Ray, director of the UCLA Addictions Laboratory and the study's lead author. "This medication can be safely administered, including when people are drinking alcohol."
Although the volunteers experienced side effects from the drug, including nausea and abdominal pain, they were mild and no one dropped out of the study.
Patients reported improved mood, and the drug especially seemed to help those who had symptoms of depression. In addition, it appeared to reduce the pleasurable effects of alcohol.
Ray said testing for new drugs is critical, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved only four treatments for alcoholism, and they have been only modestly effective.
The research is published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
More than 7 percent of American adults abuse alcohol, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Treatment programs consist of counseling, prevention strategies, and support, but relapse rates range from 40 to 60 percent.
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