Two recent studies give hope to individuals who experience the physical, mental and social symptoms associated with alcohol dependence.
Researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) found favorable results for a medication to help heavy drinkers who are trying to modify their consumption, as well as a medication to reduce alcohol withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse.
In a landmark study, MUSC researchers working with investigators at the University of Virginia Health System and elsewhere have found that topiramate, an effective therapeutic medication, not only decreases heavy drinking, but it also lowers all liver enzymes, plasma cholesterol, body mass index (BMI), and systolic and diastolic blood pressure — all of which tend to increase with heavy drinking and pose such serious health risks as heart disease and cirrhosis.
Notably, these combined effects suggest that topiramate may decrease the risk of heart disease in alcohol dependent individuals.
“These findings add growing data indicating that heavy drinkers who modify their drinking with the help of medication and supportive counseling may see an improvement in health and well-being, as well as a potential reduction of risk for the development of heart and liver diseases. This shows that treatment of alcoholism has potential health benefits beyond the immediate behavioral and emotional improvement caused by a reduction in drinking” said Raymond Anton, M.D.
By decreasing liver enzymes and cholesterol levels, topiramate also may reduce the risk of fatty liver disease, which leads to cirrhosis – a common consequence to end-stage liver disease leading to death in some alcoholics.
Additionally, topiramate significantly contributed to a decline in obsessive thoughts and compulsions, components of alcohol craving, and also had a greater improvement in their “overall quality of life,” and specifically an improvement in general and leisure activities and household duties, as well as a reduction in sleep disturbances.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved topiramate for seizures and migraine headaches, but it is not currently approved for treating alcohol dependence. Ortho-McNeil Neurologics, Inc., manufactures topiramate and provided study funding.
Results from the nationwide 14-week trial involving 371 male and female diagnosed alcoholics was published in the June 9 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
In addition, Anton presented initial results from a separate investigation of a 14-week double-blind, placebo-controlled study utilizing the PROMETA ® alcoholism treatment program, developed by Hythiam, inc., at the 2008 Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) conference in Washington D.C.
Anton suggested that alcohol dependence programs are few in number and not exceptionally effective, which is particularly true for individuals who experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. PROMETA ®, a combination of generic medications, reduced cravings and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, promoted abstinence, and improved mood and sleep only in those who had symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Although the PROMETA ® Protocol has been marketed nationally, this was the first scientific study examining its utility in individuals with alcohol dependence.
At the time of the RSA presentation, the data presented covered the initial six-week active treatment phase of the 14-week study. While these are initial findings, additional evaluation of the full 14-week study data is ongoing, and Anton plans to release these specifics in a peer-reviewed publication.
MUSC has an ongoing clinical trial program studying new medications for the treatment of alcohol use disorders. For more information call 843-792-2727.