A new study conducted by researchers at UCLA, has found that an asthma medication which is only approved in Japan could be an effective treatment option for patients struggling with alcoholism. The study – which was published in the journal, Neuropsychopharmacology – was the first to test the anti-inflammatory drug, ibudilast, in patients with alcoholism.
The small human trial involved 17 males and seven females who reported drinking seven alcoholic beverages per day, at least 21 days out of the month. Patients were randomly assigned to receive an escalating dose of the drug, or a placebo, over a six-day period.
After a two-week rest period, the patient groups were switched to allow placebo participants to receive the drug. According to the study investigators, patients exhibited lower alcohol cravings when they were taking ibudilast, compared to the placebo.
The researchers also noted changes in mood while patients were taking the drug. In one test, the study participants were asked to hold and smell a glass of an alcoholic beverage, but refrain from consuming the drink. Patients taking ibudilast reported better moods, compared to the placebo.
Patients were also given an intravenous dose of alcohol on the sixth day of the study, in order to determine how the drug interacts with alcohol. As patients being treated for alcoholism may still drink, it was important for the researchers to determine whether the drug would be safe in this situation.
“We found that ibudilast is safe and well-tolerated,” said Lara Ray, a UCLA professor of psychology, director of the UCLA Addictions Laboratory and the study’s lead author. “This medication can be safely administered, including when people are drinking alcohol.”
The drug also appeared to help participants recover from stressful situations, and benefitted those with depressive symptoms. The researchers also reported that ibudilast may reduce the pleasurable effects of alcohol consumption.
Previous research has shown that ibudilast was effective in rats at reducing alcohol consumption. “We’re excited to see that the strong animal data with ibudilast is now followed by our finding that ibudilast is well-tolerated in humans,” said Ray.
To date, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has only approved four treatments for alcoholism, but they are not widely-prescribed. More clinical trials will need to be performed in order to determine whether ibudilast would be effective at treating alcoholism.