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A New Drug for Alcohol Addiction and How it Works

Update Date: Jul 30, 2012 07:43 AM EDT

Alcohol consumption is the third largest reason for the factor responsible for onset of various diseases and in spite of that, there are only three FDA approved drugs available to treat Alcohol dependence.

Researchers from Karolinska Institutet and the University of Gothenburg claim to have found a new drug that could help deal people with alcohol addiction.  Apparently, the drug OSU6162 is a monoamine stabilizer and it works by blunting the rewarding effect of alcohol in people.

To understand how the drug OSU6162 works, it is important to understand how alcohol affects a person's brain, and what causes the cravings.

According to the report, while eating delicious food, exercising and having sex, a chemical called dopamine is released in the brain reward system which gives a feeling of wellbeing. The release of dopamine forms a memory between the specific action and the feeling of well being, thus demanding us to repeat the action in order to feel good.

When a person consumes alcohol, more amount of dopamine is released than when it is released during normal activities like eating. The increasd amount of dopamine obviously causes a feeling of euphoria and the pleasure experienced under the influence of alcohol, increases.

However, repeated consumption of alcohol lowers the feeling of euphoria (by dropping the amount of dopamine) and slowly, the person's starts feeling the need of more alcohol in order to reach that state of mind. The addiction reaches a level where the person feels the need to take alcohol in order to prevent dysphoria or depression.

The already established memory between alcohol and the feeling of well-being amplifies the craving and even if a person has quit the habit for a long time, it only takes a single instance of drinking to get back to the habit again.

"OSU6162 has the unique ability to stabilize the brain's dopamine levels by raising low and decreasing high levels, which makes it particularly attractive for the treatment of alcohol dependence," says Pia Steensland, associate professor at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institutet, who led the study, in the press release. "We tested OSU6162 on rats that had consumed alcohol for a long time because their brain reward system works in much the same way as ours."

For the study, the researchers conducted an experiment on mice. The mice, in the beginning of the study, were given a choice between drinking alcohol and water. In a few months time, there were rats that started consuming alcohol in large amounts while others kept it low and preferred water.

All the rats were then treated with OSU6162, after which it was found that high consumers reduced their alcohol intake drastically and preferred water like other rats.  The research also showed that the compound not only reduced the desire in rats to reach alcohol, it also prevented relapse even after an interval of a long time.

OSU6162 is currently being successfully tested at the University of Gothenburg for mental fatigue following head trauma in humans and will soon be tested for its efficiency in treating alcohol-dependency in humans.

"Our results suggest that OSU6162 blocks the increase in dopamine levels, and thereby prevents the rewarding effects of alcohol," says Steensland. "The dopamine levels decrease in the reward system decrease after long-term alcohol abuse. Our rats' lack of interest in alcohol after treatment with OSU6162 would suggest that the compound can stabilise or normalise the disrupted dopamine levels induced by long term alcohol consumption."

The research was published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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