Health, Life

Can Binge Drinking Be Helped By Using A Pill?

Banyan Treatment Center

There’s a pill that people have turned to to treat alcohol use disorder. This has been around for decades now. The pill may also help reduce binge drinking. That is, if it’s ingesting right before consuming alcohol.

This is what the new study suggests. Taking the pill called naltrexone when needed for 12 weeks helped participants have fewer cravings and fewer days when it came to binge drinking. This is especially helpful for those who tend to have too many drinks. The good news is that this is a decades-old drug. With this, moderate drinking might be a distinct possibility.

The medicine talked about is naltrexone. This has been prescribed since the 1980s to treat those who suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD). It has been designed to blocking endorphins, or the feel-good chemicals in the brain, so they don’t get that happy buzz. This is often taken daily to reduce cravings and make drinking less enjoyable. It’s also easier for those to quit the habit.

A new study has been made and findings suggest that a single dose of naltrexone taken right going out or just when the urge to drink comes could help people consume less alcohol.

“Targeted use of naltrexone, or taking it on an as-needed basis, can be an important tool for people interested in cutting down their heavy alcohol use,” said lead study author Glenn-Milo Santos, PhD, MPH. He is a substance use researcher and professor at the University of California San Francisco.

Drinking Less After Treatment

In order to conduct the study, researchers asked 120 men who have reported to suffer from mild to moderate alcohol use disorder and who wanted to lessen binge drinking to drink the medicine whenever they craved alcohol or had plans to drink. The scientists randomly chose half of the men to get naltrexone to take as needed. The others just had placebo. They were also asked to go to weekly counseling to help curb their craving.

After 12 weeks of treatment, those who took naltrexone experienced fewer cravings, fewer total days of binge drinking, and fewer total drinks each month. This was per the study results published in December 2022 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Six months after the treatment was completed, those who had naltrexone still experienced the benefits: They all reported to having fewer drinks each month and fewer binge-drinking days. They compared the results to those who had placebo.

The Desire to Lessen Alcohol Intake Helped

The study also came with its own set of limitations when it came to the findings, one of which was that those who wanted to be a part of the clinical trial testing could have also been more willing to lower their alcohol consumption.

Another limitation was that all of the participants were sexual and gender minority men coming from San Francisco, including those part of the LGBTQ and those men who also had sex with other men within the previous three months. Those who come from other backgrounds or communities could actually show different results.

Even so, the results suggest that as-needed naltrexone may provide a flexible treatment approach to people who aren’t interested in complete abstinence but who want to drink less in certain situations like a first date, a work holiday party, or a family gathering, Dr. Santos says.

“This study showed that targeted naltrexone can be helpful for people who binge drink and want to reduce the amount that they drink, even if they do not have severe alcohol use disorder,” Santos said.

“This is important because even modest reductions in alcohol use can have positive health impacts,” the doctor also added.

There is also a possibility that those who aren’t willing to take a daily pill might be more willing to get treatment for their drinking problem if they had the option to have it as-needed basis, said Henry Kranzler, MD. He is an addiction researcher and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia. He also wasn’t part of the team who conducted the new study.

“For a subgroup of individuals with alcohol use disorder, the appeal of being able to control the dosing and thereby avoid unnecessary drug exposure could encourage them to get treatment,” Dr. Kranzler said.

Significant Barriers to Alcohol Use Disorder Treatment Still There

For those who suffer from alcohol use disorder, however, the main obstacles to the treatment have little to do with taking a pill. Rather, they are more worried about the significant stigma that comes attached with the disease, lack of access to care, or ambivalence about quitting, Kranzler said. Another challenge faced would be the fact that primary care providers don’t really want to prescribe naltrexone or treat alcohol use disorder as a general rule, he also explained.

If you are in need of help and treatment, but your primary care provider won’t provide assistance, you should need to seek for a referral to an addiction specialist or ask for recommendations so you can meet someone better equipped to manage a drinking habit, Kranzler advised. As-needed treatment may also be more available when it comes from a provider who has a wider experience of helping those who suffer from alcohol use disorder.

“I would not prescribe naltrexone for primary prevention: to prevent someone who is drinking at modest levels from increasing to problematic levels,” Kranzler said. “However, using a medication in early problem drinkers to prevent the development of more severe AUD seems like a good strategy and justifies exposure to the medication.”