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Pill could fight alcoholism

For alcoholics, experts say the consequences of addiction last long after an evening binge to affect abusers’ entire lives, from restless mornings to sleepless nights.

BU School of Medicine is conducting a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of a psychiatric medication that could eliminate or significantly reduce heavy drinkers’ cravings for alcohol, according to researchers involved with the trial.

“One of the major symptoms of alcoholism is the inability to sleep without a drink, which is a vicious cycle we want to help people overcome,” BU study project manager Eric Devine said.

The study will test Seroquel XR, a drug already on the market as a sleeping aid, to see if the drug helps excessive drinkers overcome alcohol dependence. If it works, Devine said the drug could prevent alcoholics from resorting to more drastic measures to combat their addiction later in life.

“I hope that people who are suffering and need help will see that there are alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous and detoxification,” he said.

At first, alcohol’s sedative properties help people fall asleep easily and quickly, but habitual drinking eventually leads them to experience sleep disruptions throughout the night, said Joanne Fertig, a project officer at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

BU’s study is one of five similar clinical trials around the country sponsored by the NIAAA. The trials are an offshoot of a 2007 University of Pennsylvania study that found Seroquel XR helped some heavy drinkers become completely sober and relieved many participants’ sleep problems.

“It was exciting to find a treatment that might work in a hard-to-treat population because people usually give up on [alcohol-dependent] patients,” said Helen Pettinati, the principal investigator for the UPenn study.

Researchers said that alcoholics tend not to treat their problem until late in their lives. One BU student named Aaron, who asked that his last name not be used, said he has drunk alcohol and taken Vicodin pills several times to help him sleep.

Still, the College of Arts and Sciences freshman said the benefits of drinking outweigh the risks for him.

“If you can’t sleep, you can’t function,” he said. “Alcohol helped me sleep for the first time in 11 days on one occasion.”

Other students wondered about the drug’s uses. College of Communication senior Andrew Clapham said he thinks the study is a worthwhile undertaking, but added if the drug proves successful it could lead to unnecessary prescriptions for people who are not heavy drinkers.

Sargent College of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences junior Lisa Ziegelbauer said she has friends who drink in order to sleep so she would support a drug that helps people get over their desire for alcohol.

“Any drug that could get rid of someone’s craving for alcohol so that they don’t abuse it is a good idea,” she said.
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source: Daily Free Press

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