Key points to remember
- Addiction to alcohol and nicotine go hand in hand, which often increases the health risks for patients.
- A new clinical trial has found that a combination of drugs varenicline and naltrexone can help heavy-drinking smokers quit at a faster rate than previously thought.
- Experts say it’s crucial to treat both addictions simultaneously.
The combination of alcohol and tobacco abuse increases the risk of health problems for thousands of Americans each year. Now, researchers are trying to determine if there are drugs that can be safely and effectively combined to treat both addictions simultaneously.
In a recent clinical trial conducted by the UCLA Brain Research Institute, scientists tested different combinations of alcohol and tobacco drugs on a cohort of heavy smokers to determine the best way to help them quit smoking.
They found that not only can smoking cessation and reducing alcohol consumption be successfully targeted with drugs, but that a combination of drugs varenicline and naltrexone can help smokers who drink a lot of alcohol to quit. smoke at a higher rate than previously thought.
âCurrently, there are no FDA-approved drug therapy options specifically designed for heavy smokers,â study author. ReJoyce Green, a doctoral student in clinical psychology from the UCLA Addiction Lab, says Verywell. âResearch must continue to assess how existing or new drugs can be used to treat heavy smokers. ”
How to deal with addictions that come with it
Both alcoholism and tobacco addiction are major public health problems. Tobacco-related illnesses are 2 to 4 times more common in people addicted to alcohol. And compared to the 34% death rate for alcoholics who do not smoke, that for alcoholics who smoke is 51%.
Researchers have identified an established treatment for alcohol use disorders, naltrexone, and another for smoking, varenicline (commercially known as Chantix). They then analyzed a group of 165 adults who are heavy drinkers and smokers.
The participants all smoked at least five cigarettes per day. Women consumed more than 7 drinks per week, while men drank more than 14.
Over a 12-week period, the researchers gave them all a daily dose of varenicline during the trial (2 milligrams). Half of the group also received Naltrexone (50 milligrams) and the rest were given a placebo.
Twenty-six weeks after the study was concluded, 59 participants had quit smoking, or nearly 36% of the entire cohort. This was a higher rate than the researchers had expected. Previous studies have suggested that varenicline has a success rate of around 25-30%.
Surprisingly, those who received a placebo as a second pill instead of naltrexone were more likely to quit smoking than people who received naltrexone. The former had a 45% dropout rate compared to 27% of those who took naltrexone.
However, those who took both drugs were slightly more likely to reduce their alcohol intake than those who took the placebo. They reduced their weekly intake to three drinks per day, while those who took a placebo had an average of four drinks.
“These results advance the field of drug therapy options for heavy smokers by demonstrating that varenicline alone may be sufficient aid for smoking cessation,” said Green. “But for the results of alcohol consumption, there might be an additional benefit of varenicline and naltrexone combined.”
What it means for you
If you are struggling with alcohol and smoking addiction, ask your clinician if it is possible to combine different drugs such as naltrexone and varenicline. If you are struggling with drug addiction, you can also call the SAMHSA National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357). It is confidential, free and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Add more treatment options to the list
These results suggest that using the right medication can target both tobacco and alcohol addiction in a patient.
âThe results highlight a complex problem facing the drug addiction field: many people suffer from multiple addictions that occur at the same time, and treating these concurrent addictions may be different and more difficult than treating one or more. the other of these dependencies alone â Erin Calipari, an assistant professor of pharmacology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine Basic Science, says Verywell. “These findings are really important for clinicians who treat people with substance use disorders.”
But because even drugs like varenicline have their limits, scientists are always calling for more research on the subject. According to Green, for the future, they will need to continue to examine the effects of different doses of naltrexone.
Indra Cidambi, MD, medical director of the Center for Network Therapy, tells Verywell that drug therapy should go hand in hand with psychotherapy, and that research like this can help improve that relationship.
âMany studies have proven that combining drugs with therapy works best,â Cidambi said. âIt is encouraging to see more drugs being proven effective through clinical trials as it increases treatment options. ”
She explains that when substance abuse is ignored – say, treating alcohol addiction now and tobacco addiction later – the reward pathways in the brain remain open. This can lead to the abuse of the other substance.
Fine-tuning how to combine drugs to treat both addictions at the same time can help drug treatment professionals better care for their patients.