It could be described as the stone that kills two vices.
United States FDA-approved smoking cessation drug varenicline , is posing to be handed out to alcoholics as well.
The Pfizer manufactured drug, sold under the name Chantix, which has been used quite successfully by smokers , was tested to reveal the same effects in alcoholics too, of the furry kind, lab rats.
Says Selena Bartlett, a University of California, San Francisco neuroscientist who led the study: "The biggest thrill is that this drug, which has already proved safe for people trying to stop smoking, is now a potential drug to fight alcohol dependence."
In the study, the researchers trained rats to drink alcohol and measured the effect of varenicline once the animals became the lab equivalent of heavy drinkers. They found the drug curbed their drinking. Even when stopped, the rats resumed drinking but did not binge.
The study is outlined in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The drug varenicline is said to work by latching onto the same receptors in the brain that nicotine binds to, when inhaled in cigarette smoke, an action that leads to the release of dopamine in the brain's pleasure centers. Taking the drug blocks any inhaled nicotine from enhancing that effect.
Varenicline has been available as a smoking cessation aid for nearly a year in the U.S. and the European Union, and as well as being safe it does not suppress the appetite and is not metabolized in the liver.
According to Bartlett this is a major advantage because long-term drinkers often have liver damage. In addition, the drug has the potential to be considered as a treatment for addictions such as gambling and painkillers.
The University of California researchers, together with the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, are planning the first studies in humans of the drug's effectiveness in curbing alcohol cravings and dependence, according to Bartlett.
At the same time, several experts not involved in the study warn that there is no such thing as a magic cure-all for addiction and that varenicline and such drugs may find more immediate use in treating diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.