Over 18 million people suffer from alcohol abuse or addiction, and the number may be higher due to many problem drinkers not seeking treatment or being diagnosed. Worldwide, about 5.9 percent of deaths are attributed to alcohol consumption.
There are three medications already on the market to help treat alcoholism. However, these are minimally effective, and many in the recovery community debate whether they are reliable methods of treatment.
A new study from the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy has found that an old drug just might have a new use as treatment for alcohol abuse and addiction.
Current Treatment Options
Current treatment options for alcohol abuse and dependence includes psychotherapy, support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery, and medication. The three FDA approved medications are acamprosate, disulfiram, and naltrexone.
Acamprosate reduces the withdrawal symptoms experienced during detox. Naltrexone blocks the receptors in the brain that lead to the cravings and desirable effects of alcohol.
Disulfiram causes a person to feel sick when he or she consumes alcohol. Many in the recovery community are concerned by some of the medication used in treatment, especially that they might lead to other substance abuse problems.
Current treatment programs have a relapse rate as high as 70 percent, and the current drugs have about a 10 percent success rate, so the medical community is working to find a better solution.
Ivermectin (IVM) has been used for decades for the treatment of parasitic infections in both humans and animals. Megan Yardley, a PhD candidate from the Department of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences discovered in her advanced research training with the TL1 program offered by the Southern California Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute that Ivermectin might be able to help with the treatment of alcohol abuse by reducing the amount of alcohol consumed.
She worked with Daryl Davies, an associate professor at the School of Pharmacy who has been studying the drug for the past six years.
This new use of the drug is still under trials. However, Yardley's five-year research study on mouse models suggests that it can reduce the consumption of alcohol in both social and binge drinking.
The mice were given 30 milligrams of Ivermectin, which reduced the amount of alcohol they consumed in both social drinking and binge drinking models. The alcohol dependent mice drank fifty percent less alcohol.
IVM acts on several different proteins in the brain that are also targeted by alcohol. It also does not have any addictive properties, making its safer to use during treatment than some drugs. It most likely would work best as part of a comprehensive treatment program that includes therapy and behavioral intervention.
Yardley intends to continue her research into IVM. The FDA has approved the research to continue to study the efficacy of IVM in alcohol dependency with human trials. In addition to seeing if the drug has the same effects on humans as rats, the researches need to study more to see what possible side effects the drug may have when taken on a consistent basis.
One of the promising characteristics of this drug is that it could allow problem drinkers to consume one or two drinks but not have the compulsion to continue to drink until it becomes a problem. This would create a different type of treatment protocol than currently offered. Most treatment programs have a complete abstinence philosophy.
The IVM treatment could create a treatment method that focuses more on preventing the compulsion to drink while still allowing a person to consume small amounts of alcohol, thus potentially changing the alcoholism treatment industry.