New Class of Drugs Could Potentially Treat Alcoholism Without Negative Side Effects
In the past few decades, alcoholism treatment has come leaps and bounds in terms of effectiveness and availability, but most common alcoholism therapies come with significant unwanted side effects.
Now, new research presented at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) is suggesting a new class of drugs may be able to treat the disease without many of the negative side effects associated with the current treatments.
“Alcoholism is a major problem in the U.S.,” V. V. N. Phani Babu Tiruveedhula says. “Alcohol abuse costs almost $220 billion to the U.S. economy every year. That’s a shocking number. We need a better treatment right now.” Tiruveedhula is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.
While research has made great strides, the exact causes of alcoholism are not completely understood, however, the researchers say one factor in the equation that creates the urge to drink lies in the brain’s pleasure centers.
Research has shown alcohol signals the brain to release dopamine, a neurochemical whose levels rise in response to pleasurable behavior such as eating or listening to music.
James Cook, Ph.D., a chemist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, who advises Tiruveedhula, says some drugs currently available to treat alcoholism “dampen out the dopamine system a little bit, so you don’t get so happy when you have an alcoholic beverage.” The problem is, these medications – derived from a class of compounds called opioid antagonists, also often causes depression in patients. They can also be addictive, which can frequently lead to abuse.
In an attempt to find an alternative, Cook searched for molecules known to cause some of the same results as Valium, one such drug commonly used to treat alcoholism, without the unwanted side effects. Over almost two decades, Cook worked with the late Harry June, Ph.D., a psychopharmacologist at Howard University. The two conducted laboratory tests to uncover the effects of these compounds and gauge their effectiveness.
Now, Tiruveedhula has continued their research under Cook’s tutelage and has found several promising beta-carboline compounds that could revolutionize the treatment of alcoholism. Not only has Tiruveedhula simplified the steps to manufacture the compounds from eight steps to just two, he has managed to increase the yield tenfold in the process while eliminating the negative side effects.
In tests using rats bred to crave alcohol, the researchers found the compounds significantly reduced the rats’ drinking while showing few of the side effects found in common alcoholism treatment drugs, such as depression. The drugs also appeared to reduce anxiety in the rats bred to crave alcohol, but not in control rats.
“What excites me is the compounds are orally active, and they don’t cause depression like some drugs do,” says Cook.
The group is continuing the test the compounds through additional animal studies, but Cook believes the compounds may be widely available for the treatment of alcohol in five to six years.