Can This Opiate Blocking Drug Help Treat Alcohol Addiction?

Alcoholism is a serious and pervasive form of addiction in the U.S. Excessive drinking is responsible for nearly 90,000 deaths each year and has been shown to increase the risk of developing chronic conditions including heart disease, stroke and liver disease.

Given that, the scientific community continues to develop new therapies to help prevent and treat the condition. One group of researchers, in particular, has discovered a new compound which may eventually lead to new treatments.

Researchers at Imperial College London explored the physiological effects of nalmefene — a compound that regulates opioid receptors in the brain.

To conduct their study, scientists recruited 22 problem drinkers to see if and how nalmefene altered their brain chemistry.

They were given a single 18 milligram dose of nalmefene and received an intravenous infusion of alcohol to raise their blood alcohol levels. The research participants were then subjected to MRI scans.

Researchers discovered that the individuals who had been given nalmefene exhibited lower levels of activity in areas of their brain associated with habit formation, specifically the dorsal and ventral striatum. In essence, their findings suggest that nalmefene could reduce the risk of developing an addiction to alcohol by dampening the brain’s reward pathways.

“This fits with my clinical experience, where people describe how being on opiate blocking drugs means they may start drinking, but they quickly lose any desire to — it doesn’t taste nice or give them a good feeling,” said Professor Lingford-Hughes, one of the study’s lead authors. “Our study suggests these remedies work in blunting responses to reward stimuli in those with existing substance issues, dulling the drive that makes them want more of the same thing.”

It’s encouraging to see continued investments in the areas of addiction research, treatment and prevention. Given that problem drinking and alcohol abuse is a serious public health issue, it’s important that the scientific community continues to explore new therapies that can complement existing, evidence-based treatments.

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