Drug found to ‘significantly reduce’ alcohol consumption may help overcome addiction
A prescription drug commonly used to treat psoriasis in adults could potentially be used to reduce alcohol consumption and addiction, according to a study.
Researchers, including those from Scripps Research Institute in the US, found the drug Apremilast can “significantly reduce” alcohol consumption by over 50 per cent in individuals with severe alcohol use disorder (AUD).
The study, published recently in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, also found the drug increases activity in a region of the brain known to play a role in AUD.
“We’re incredibly excited to have found a drug that has such a large effect size on alcohol consumption, and with such good tolerability and safety at the same time,” study senior author Barbara Mason said in a statement.
Researchers, however, said the medicine is not yet approved for the treatment of AUD, adding that more research is needed to determine its effectiveness and safety in the general population.
Nearly 30 million Americans could likely be suffering from AUD – a condition that encompasses alcohol abuse, alcohol dependence, and alcohol addiction – with fewer than 10 per cent of affected individuals getting any treatment.
Studies have shown that prescription drug Apremilast – which is used to treat moderate to severe plaque psoriasis in adults – works by inhibiting an enzyme called phosphodiesterase 4 (PDE4) that is involved in inflammation and brain cell function.
While the drug is used to treat psoriasis due to its immune function, scientists said blocking PDE4 in the brain can help reduce alcohol intake based on studies in mice.
Researchers said they chose to study the effect of Apremilast as it had fewer gastrointestinal side effects that were associated with earlier PDE4 inhibitors.
In the new study, scientists enrolled 51 paid adult volunteers with severe AUD, none of whom were actively trying to consume less alcohol.
Each person also took a daily pill of either Apremilast or a placebo for 14 days. On average, each participant consumed about five alcoholic drinks per day at the start of the study.
While those who received the placebo still drank nearly five drinks each day, others who took Apremilast reduced their alcohol intake to only about two drinks per day.
The drug also decreased the percentage of days participants were classified as “heavy drinkers”, researchers said.
The study noted that the drug was also well tolerated among the participants who did not discontinue treatment due to gastrointestinal side effects.
“In this study, we saw that Apremilast worked in mice. It worked in different labs, and it worked in people. This is incredibly promising for treatment of addiction in general,” study senior author Angela Ozburn said.
“It’s very unusual to get results like this, particularly in a severely affected population. This will need to move to larger, broader clinical trials now, but with this study, I think we’ve shown that this is an incredibly promising drug for alcohol use disorder,” Dr Mason added.