For those affected by alcoholism, quitting can be quite difficult. However, there may be a new form of treatment through prescription drugs. Naltrexone (17-(cyclopropylmethyl)-4, 5α-epoxy-3, 14-dihydroxymorphinan-6-one) has been used in combination with behavioral therapy and has very promising results.
Naltrexone is one of two drugs that have been used in alcoholism treatment tests. Topiramate, a drug used for epilepsy and migraine treatment, was tested by Dr. Bankole Johnson at the University of Virginia, and the results were that it reduced the amount of drinks that an alcoholic had. COMBINE, a federally funded study, showed that the combination of behavioral therapy and naltrexone also resulted in an alcoholic consuming less alcohol. Both drugs have shown not be addictive or have any significant side effects.
The mechanism of naltrexone is not fully known; however, naltrexone is an opioid receptor antagonist which is involved in the modulation of the dopaminergic mesolimbic pathway. The mesolimbic pathway in the brain originates in the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain and projects to the limbic system through the nucleus accumbens, amygdala, the hippocampus, as well as to the medial prefrontal cortex. Dopamine is thought to be involved in alcoholism, as it reinforces reward responses. When naltrexone is introduced into an alcoholic’s system, it reduces the craving for alcohol.
However, naltrexone should not be seen as a cure-all. Currently, studies have only shown that it reduces the amount of alcohol consumed, not the complete eradication. In the case of addiction, any consumption of an addictive drug is not preferential. Nevertheless, it does open up treatment options for alcoholics who have not found behavioral therapy enough to kick the habit.
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Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch is a bachelor's of science candidate in neuroscience at Trinity College in Hartford, CT.