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Mental Health Channel
Reported June 16, 2006

Help for Alcoholics

Help for AlcoholicsCHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Ivanhoe Broadcast News) -- For most of us, a drink of alcohol is a way to relax or socialize. But for some, drinking can be dangerous ... even deadly. Alcoholism is the third-leading preventable death in this country. Now, a new drug could help.

A day at the lake is a perfect day for Tom. He's finally able to enjoy time alone after battling alcoholism for six years. The addiction destroyed everything that once mattered. "I lost a career because of that," he says. "It helped break up my marriage."

Tom would drink up to 10 glasses of whisky a day. "It's miserable. Basically, your life doesn't belong to you anymore. You're consumed with consuming alcohol." But today, he can focus on other things -- like fishing -- thanks to a new drug called topiramate.

Help for AlcoholicsHelp for AlcoholicsPhysician Neuroscientist Bankole Johnson, M.D., DSC, of the UVa Health System says the drug is one of the first that targets the brain in alcoholics. "What we are trying to show is that alcohol dependence is actually a brain disease in the same way other brain diseases are ... like migraine or epilepsy," he tells Ivanhoe.

Topiramate works by slowing the effects of dopamine, a chemical in the brain. In a 12-week study, those who took the drug were six-times more likely to stop drinking than those who took a placebo pill.

"I think this is very exciting," Dr. Johnson says. Another exciting -- but accidental -- finding was the drug also helped smokers reduce their cravings.

Help for AlcoholicsSince the study, Tom has been sober for more than nine months. "It was like a miracle to me," he says. "I'm getting my life back, and it feels great."

Patients in the study took the drug once a week for 12 weeks. Doctors are now starting another, larger trial to study the effects of topiramate on alcoholics and smokers. They hope those studies will lead to FDA approval. The most common side effects of topiramate were drowsiness and fatigue.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe.com, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week. To subscribe, go to: /newsalert/.

If you would like more information, please contact:

Mary Jane Gore
PR Specialist
UVa Health System
PO Box 800795
Charlottesville, VA 22903
(434) 924-9241
mjgore@virginia.edu

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