Quit Smoking Rx Helped Heavy Drinkers

Smoking cessation medication reduced alcohol consumption by heavy drinkers

(RxWiki News) A prescription used to help people quit smoking may also help people with alcohol dependence. The medication had side effects, but the benefits may outweigh the negatives.

A recent clinical trial tested the use of varenicline (brand name Chantix) — a smoking cessation medication — to treat alcohol dependence in a group of heavy drinkers.

The results of the trial showed that the medication reduced drinking in people with alcohol use disorders.

The medication also helped reduce smoking among smokers.

"Seek treatment for alcohol dependence."

Raye Z. Litten, PhD, associate director of the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, led this clinical trial to test the use of smoking cessation medication to treat alcohol dependence.

Varenicline has been on the market as a smoking cessation aid since 2006.

According to the authors, roughly 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder where they either abuse alcohol or are dependent upon alcohol. Alcohol use disorders increase the risk for developing medical, psychological, social, personal and economic troubles, wrote the study authors.

Previous studies involving varenicline as a smoking cessation aid in people that were both smokers and heavy drinkers showed that varenicline helped reduce cravings for both cigarettes and alcohol.

For this clinical trial, 200 men and women who had been diagnosed with alcohol dependence in the past year were recruited.

Each male participant had been drinking at least 35 alcoholic beverages per week, and each female had been drinking at least 28 alcoholic beverages per week for at least 28 days just before the trial.

On average, the participants had been drinking 13 alcoholic beverages per day before entering the trial.

The participants physically visited the clinic five times and called in over the telephone eight times over the 13-week trial.

Half of the participants were given varenicline and half were given a fake pill, known as a placebo.

Between weeks 2 and 13, participants in the varenicline group consumed an average of 38 alcoholic beverages per week. During the same period, participants in the placebo group consumed an average of 48 alcoholic beverages per week.

The participants in the varenicline group had an average of four drinks per regular day and six drinks per heavy drinking day. These participants reported heavy drinking days 18 percent of the time.

The participants in the placebo group had an average of five drinks per regular drinking day and seven drinks per heavy drinking day. These participants reported heavy drinking 26 percent of the time.

Smokers in the varenicline group smoked an average of seven cigarettes per day, while smokers in the placebo group smoked an average of 11 cigarettes per day.

At least one of 22 different side effects occurred in 5 percent of the patients in both groups.

Nausea was reported by 37 percent of people taking varenicline compared to 18 percent of people taking the placebo.

Abnormal dreams were reported by 28 percent of people in the varenicline group compared to 12 percent of people in the placebo group.

Constipation was reported by 9 percent of the people in the varenicline group compared to 2 percent of those in the placebo group.

“Varenicline significantly reduced alcohol consumption and craving, making it a potentially viable option for the treatment of alcohol dependence,” wrote the study authors.

According to the authors, further studies on the use of varenicline to treat alcohol use disorders are needed to understand the long-term effects of the medication.

Varenicline can run between $0 and $200 per month depending upon dosage, location and insurance coverage.

This study was published in June in the Journal of Addiction Medicine.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, an agency of the National Institutes of Health, provided financial support for this trial. No conflicts of interest were declared.

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Review Date: 
June 5, 2013