Study shows medication significantly reduced consumption habits in people experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal
By Jason LangendorfDecember 1, 2020
File under: welcome news. A drug originally developed to treat high blood pressure has been newly identified as helpful for people struggling with severe alcohol use disorder (AUD). In a study by Yale, researchers recently determined that the drug prazosin may help reduce the symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal. Study participants who were administered the medication significantly scaled back their drinking and experienced reduced levels of anxiety, depression and alcohol cravings.
There has been no treatment readily available for people who experience severe withdrawal symptoms, and these are the people at highest risk of relapse and are most likely to end up in hospital emergency rooms.”—Rajita Sinha, Yale professor of neuroscience, Foundations Fund Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Yale Stress Center
Corresponding study author Rajita Sinha, the Foundations Fund professor of psychiatry, a professor of neuroscience and director of the Yale Stress Center, hinted that her group’s findings show the promise of effective medical therapy for individuals with AUD and may ultimately help ease the burden on healthcare systems.
“There has been no treatment readily available for people who experience severe withdrawal symptoms,” Sinha told Yale News, “and these are the people at highest risk of relapse and are most likely to end up in hospital emergency rooms.”
Double-Blind Study Results
In the double-blind study, 100 participants entering outpatient treatment who had been diagnosed with AUD received prazosin or a placebo. Although the prazosin drug had a minimal effect on participants with lesser withdrawal symptoms, subjects who had experienced more severe symptoms—shakes, heightened cravings, anxiety and difficulty sleeping—“significantly reduced the number of heavy drinking episodes and days they drank compared to those who received a placebo.”
Prazosin, still used as a treatment for some other conditions (including prostate problems), has been shown in previous Yale studies to have positive effects on the stress centers of the brain and help improve memory, as well as anxiety and craving symptoms. Sinha says the medication could be used to help curb the severe symptoms associated with the initial stages of recovery in a person with AUD, which tend to decrease the longer alcohol is avoided.
In its current form, Sinh said, prazosin needs to be administered three times daily to be effective. In the study, published in November in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the Yale researchers wrote that “[t]hese data support further evaluation of alcohol withdrawal symptoms as a prognostic indicator of prazosin’s efficacy in the treatment of AUD,” suggesting that more work needed to be done in studying the medication as a treatment for addiction.
Photo: Joseph Gonzalez