The Science of Addiction

An Asthma Drug to Help Curb Alcoholism?

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Ibudalist is a name most people have never heard of.  It is an anti-inflammatory drug that has been used for years in Japan for the treatment of asthma.  The results of a recent study at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), now reveals that this drug could also have a role to play in the fight against alcoholism.

The treatment of alcoholism is most often dealt with through mental and emotional healing.  Typically, it’s provided in a medically supervised treatment center, an out-patient setting or through support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  These programs have done wonders, enabling the rebuilding of families and saving countless lives.  They’ve been critical for helping someone in the throes of addiction better understand his or her illness and provides the educational tools necessary to fight the disease.  However, the one thing they can’t do is turn off the lingering physical cravings that escape all logic.

The Ibudalist research evaluated a group of men and women who drank seven or more alcoholic beverages per day, for more than 21 days a month – people clearly struggling with severe alcoholism.  For the first five days, they were given dosages of the drug.  On the sixth day, they received the equivalent of four drinks directly into the blood stream via an intravenous feeding tube, to see how their bodies would tolerate alcohol in their system.  Scientists were pleased to discover that the subjects reported fewer cravings for alcohol and overall improved moods as a result of taking Ibudalist.

The study’s lead author and UCLA psychology professor, Lara Ray, noted “we found that Ibudalist is safe and well tolerated.”  What she found most promising was not only did the drug diminish the desire to drink, but it did not induce any side effects when a subject drank alcohol in combination with the drug.  That is a problem common with other Medically Assisted Treatments (MATs) used to combat alcoholism.

Addiction is the number one disease in America.  On any given weekend evening, almost 8% of people stopped at roadside checkpoints test positive for alcohol in their system, 2% of whom are over the legal limit.  Driving while impaired accounts for over 1/3 of our nations 40,000+ auto accident deaths.  A seminal study from Harvard in 1983 entitled “The Natural History of Alcoholism” reported that alcoholism was a major cause of liver disease, depression, neurosis, divorce and toxic relationships.  Despite increased awareness, those same conclusions still prove true today.

This study provides hope and some interesting insights.  Several current MATs for alcohol work by making the alcoholic sick when he or she drinks.  Many people are therefore quite reluctant to adhere to a long-term program.  Ibudalist also apparently has a positive impact on people who drink to the extreme.  These are the ones who most notoriously reject pleas to enter treatment and, even once in treatment, are most difficult to help get and stay clean.  However, despite these benefits, I am left wondering whether the drug is equally effective on people who are less alcoholic than those included in the study, and about the reliability of the ‘self-reporting’ aspect of the study since no control group was mentioned.  I am also left curious about the medical reasons behind why an anti-inflammatory drug would have these properties.

Researchers indicated they will be conducting additional studies.  I look forward to keeping you abreast of those ongoing results.

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