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Aripiprazole may be effective for alcohol addiction

A drug used to treat the symptoms of psychosis in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may also be a useful medication for individuals who are addicted to alcohol, findings published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research suggest.

Aripiprazole, sold in the U.S. under the trade name Abilify, is an atypical antipsychotic that increases the sedative effects of alcohol, while decreasing its euphoric effects, the researchers explain. The activity of aripiprazole on dopamine receptors in the brain – areas thought to have a role in mood and addiction — suggest the drug would reduce the reinforcing effects of alcohol and thus modulate drinking behavior.

In the current study, Dr. Henry R. Kranzler and colleagues from the University of Connecticut Health Center, Farmington, examined whether aripiprazole could modify the behavioral and physiological effects of a moderate dose of alcohol in a group of social drinkers.

The 18 healthy participants were an average of 27.6 years old and were an average weight for their height. They reported drinking moderately in the 90 days prior to study enrollment: an average of 19.5 days of drinking, 1.8 days of heavy drinking, for a total of 47.8 standard drinks consumed.

The subjects were assigned to take part in three experimental sessions in random sequence: no medication; 2.5 milligrams of aripiprazole; or 10 milligrams of aripiprazole on the day prior to the laboratory session. During the session, the participants consumed alcohol served as three standardized drinks, individually measured according to their sex, body height and body weight.

The authors measured breath alcohol concentration, heart rate, blood pressure, equilibrium, and subjective effects of alcohol regularly throughout the sessions.

The consumption of alcohol led to the expected physiological and subjective responses. For instance, heart rate increased as the aripiprazole dose increased. Aripiprazole also significantly increased the sedative effects and decreased the euphoric effects of alcohol.

Pre-treatment with aripiprazole was generally well tolerated. The most commonly reported adverse event was tiredness. Other adverse events included nausea, sleepiness, headache, and difficulty sleeping.

Because aripiprazole decreases alcohol’s euphoric effects and increases its sedative effects, this drug could be useful in the treatment of heavy drinking, Kranzler’s team concludes. Overall, the findings suggest that “additional research on the effects of aripiprazole on the subjective effects of alcohol is warranted.”
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SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, March 2008.

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