Anticonvulsant Could Reduce Alcohol Consumption

When heavy drinkers eventually seek help they are often unable to maintain the strategies they learn in treatment, beginning a cyclical pattern of recovery and relapse. The solution could be to find ways to help heavy drinkers pull back their consumption to a more reasonable level, rather than going cold turkey.

Heavy drinking is responsible for approximately $223.5 billion in lost workplace productivity, health care and criminal justice expenses. The problem is widespread, with 23 percent of individuals over the age of 12 admitting to consuming five or more drinks on one occasion in the previous 30 days. Nearly seven percent of those surveyed said they drank heavily on at least five days in a given month. However, few of those that report heavy drinking end up seeking treatment. This is especially true of individuals that do not meet criteria for an alcohol use disorder, but whose drinking is problematic for their family members, as well as their communities.

A University of Pennsylvania study tested the effectiveness of an anticonvulsant medication called topiramate in reducing alcohol consumption among heavy drinkers. Previously the drug had been shown to be effective in helping drinkers abstain from alcohol, but the researchers wanted to test its usefulness in reducing alcohol consumption levels among problem drinkers.

The findings provide evidence that topiramate may be a useful tool, particularly for those that have a certain genetic makeup that is linked to the efficacy of therapy.

Lead author Henry R. Kranzler, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of Penn’s Center for Studies of Addiction, says the study is the first to examine the usefulness of topiramate to treat those that want to reduce drinking to safer levels, rather than curbing it altogether.

The study used a randomized double-blind design to test the medication among 138 heavy drinkers. Half of the participants received 12 weeks of treatment with topiramate, while the other half received a placebo. Both groups received brief counseling focused on reducing alcohol consumption. The trial was initially conducted at the University of Connecticut Health Center and was completed at the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania.

The study was conducted in three segments, with a one-week pre-treatment assessment, a treatment period lasting 12 weeks and a nine day period in which the medication dosage was tapered off.

The results indicated that the patients that were administered topiramate experienced fewer heavy drinking days than those that were given the placebo. By the end of the trial, the placebo group participants were five times more likely to have a heavy drinking day than those that were given topiramate. In addition, the participants taking topiramate had more abstinent days when compared with placebo patients.

Posted on September 24th, 2014
Posted in News

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