Drugs take aim at alcoholism

Dr. Olivier Ameisen is a 51-year-old cardiologist in Paris. He is also an alcoholic. Between 1997 and 2004, Ameisen was hospitalized numerous times for drinking. He went through years of rehabilitation programs and attended two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings a day, some 700 a year, for seven years. All to no avail. His craving for drink always overwhelmed his desire to quit. By January, 2004, Ameisen came to believe his only hope would be a drug that could dampen those cravings. But despite the fact that alcoholism is widely recognized as a medical condition, there were only two medications available, and neither had worked for him. Ameisen researched the literature and came across rat studies showing that baclofen, a generic drug used to control muscle spasms, could suppress the desire to consume alcohol by interfering with the reward circuitry in the brain. It is also used to treat anxiety disorders, which afflict large numbers of alcoholics, including Ameisen.

The doctor decided to self-prescribe the drug at high doses. And he took the unusual step of writing himself up as a case study this past December in the journal Alcohol & Alcoholism. After nine months on baclofen, he reported that he had not had a drink since Jan. 9, 2004, and, more important, that he had experienced "no craving or desire for alcohol for the first time in my alcoholic life. Even in a restaurant with friends, I was indifferent to people drinking. This had never occurred before," reports Business Week.

According to Washington Post, Just over a year ago the only federally approved alcohol abuse drugs were naltrexone, which won approval in 1994, and Antabuse, a decades-old drug designed to discourage drinking by making users sick if they have any alcohol.

"There was a long time when we groped around and weren't sure what we were doing in this field," said Robert Morse, a retired director of addiction treatment at Minnesota's Mayo Clinic now with the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. "But it should be an exciting field in the next decade."

Because alcoholism can be traced to a complex set of mind and body triggers, doctors say the newer drugs are hardly cure-alls, and should be used in conjunction with counseling. And because the parts of the brain linked to alcohol dependence can range from those regulating stress to appetite, finding the right medication can be challenging.

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