A study underway at the Medical University of South Carolina seeks to determine whether the atypical antipsychotic drug Abilify (aripiprazole) could be effective in reducing cravings for alcohol. The study is recruiting subjects with a diagnosis of alcohol dependence who are not currently seeking treatment for their condition. Subjects will include men and women between the ages of 21 and 40. Researchers consider this age range part of the “upward trajectory” of consumption in those with alcohol dependence. At its conclusion in December 2015, the study authors hope to compile data on 120 subjects.
Abilify has repeatedly been shown to offer improvement for a number of mental health issues beyond just schizophrenia. Severe depression, bipolar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and aggressive outbursts in autistic children have all responded favorably to treatment with Abilify. As an antipsychotic medication, Abilify has a broad and not fully understood range of action on the brain’s neurotransmitter chemicals. Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina hypothesize that this medication might also be beneficial in cases of alcohol dependence—they believe craving and rate of consumption may be reduced when an individual has taken Abilify.
This particular study will match the effectiveness of Abilify versus placebo in controlling drinking behavior. All participants will receive an eight-day allotment of either the study drug or a sugar pill. Near the end of the period, they will be asked to abstain from drinking for at least 24 hours. On the night before the end of the study, functional MRI scanning will assess whether the brain activity of those treated with Abilify displays any differences compared to the brains of those treated with placebo. Then, in the “bar lab,” participants will be permitted to drink at their discretion. Observers will discretely record drinking pace and quantities. Throughout the study, participants will be asked to keep detailed records of their drinking thoughts and behaviors. Referrals to alcohol-abuse treatment programs will be offered to subjects who express an interest.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, treatment doesn’t necessarily have to be voluntary to be successful. However, voluntary treatment is hands-down the superior alternative. Pharmaceutical solutions for problem drinking are currently quite limited. If Abilify is shown to act in subtle but measurable ways in reducing problem drinking, then there is hope for new and more effective treatments for the public health problem of alcohol abuse and dependence.
- Aripiprazole – PubMed Health. (n.d.). National Center for Biotechnology Information. Retrieved June 22, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000221/
- ClinicalTrials.gov. (n.d.). Aripiprazole Effects on Alcohol Drinking and Craving. Retrieved June 22, 2012, from http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01292057?recr=Open&intr=%22Aripiprazole%22&rank=16
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). DrugFacts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction. Retrieved June 22, 2012, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction
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