Stephanie Brooks — In an effort to reduce the number of alcohol-related deaths and diseases that occur in the U.S. each year, a team of researchers from the University of Texas at Austin are in the midst of creating a pill designed to combat alcoholism—a disease that affects more than 20 million Americans—40 percent of which are estimated to be college students, headlines show.
The pill, which is just in its preliminary testing stages, will join a slew of other FDA approved medications designed to help suppress alcohol cravings if found effective such as Naltrexon, Vivitrol, Disulfiram and Campral.
Similar to the other four medications, the new pill will utilize an advanced screening typically used for cancer patients in order to identify and block special peptides (proteins) in the brain that trigger what some may describe as alcohol-related “feel-good” symptoms—the same peptides that help some release inhibitions and bury pain. In a nutshell, researchers think if they can find a way to make alcohol feel “less rewarding,” meaning it doesn’t take you to that euphoric state of mind that people crave so much, then perhaps it will prevent users from drinking alcohol altogether.
While the other medications claim to do the same thing, UT researchers hope that their version of their sobriety pill will be more potent and won’t have as many negative side effects as the medications currently on the market. For example, Naltexon and Vivitrol only work on a small select of people and typically needs a combination of therapy to be effective; whereas Disulfiram can make patients extremely ill if he or she has a slip up and sneaks in a drink while taking the medication. UT researchers will also study whether examining a patient’s genes has anything to do with his or her alcohol dependence.
Although the pill sounds promising, some experts warn that the pill could come with an array of consequences, such as developing a post-secondary addiction to something else. Physicians are also weary of handing our prescribed drugs to alcohol-depended patients due to liability issues. For example, as explained in Medication for Alcoholism: An Expanding Field, the risks of a medicated patient driving under the influence and getting into a car accident is too high.
In May, UT researchers received a $3.3 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to work on their medication. While researchers are currently testing on lab rats, it will take many years before it will be tested on humans.
About the Author
Stephanie Brooks is a freelance writer and blogger who mostly enjoys covering all things education, including online universities and traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. When she’s not writing, she can be found at the gym working out to Zumba and cooking healthy recipes at home.