Scientists find ‘wonder drug’ ineffective for alcohol use disorders

Alcohol is the most widely used substance in the world. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), more than 80,000 people die each year due to alcohol in the United States. The total number of casualties increases to around 3.3 million deaths annually across the world due to alcohol abuse, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The use of pharmacotherapy along with psychosocial interventions has improved the success rate in patients going through alcoholism in remission and improving lifestyle necessary for the long-term alcohol abstinence.

The treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) includes behavioral treatments like mutual support groups and individual therapy (also known as psychotherapy and counseling), as well as medications. Although various medications like Antabuse, Naltrexone and Campral approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are recommended due to their effectiveness as an important treatment option for alcoholism, researchers continue to explore the existing drugs to find new treatments.

Some medications like baclofen, used for treating muscle spasms due to spinal cord injury and other problems, is now being greatly used for treating AUD. Often termed as a wonder drug due to its promising results in patients suffering from AUD, a number of studies have been conducted to compare the outcomes of baclofen with placebo.

Baclofen, sold under the brand name ‘Lioresal,’is used as a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and skeletal muscle relaxant. One of the studies revealed the efficacy of baclofen in suppressing both alcohol withdrawal signs and alcohol cravings in users dependent on alcohol. It highlighted that the administration of baclofen played a key role in treating obsessional thinking about alcohol and alcohol cravings. It also remarkably reduces the tolerance level toward alcohol. Given the anti-craving properties for alcohol, it has been widely accepted as a treatment option for alcoholism.

Clinical interactions of baclofen

Chemically, baclofen is related to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the brain. As an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA has a slowing down effect on a person’s mood and physical condition. The reward pathway of the brain is an important region involved in the development of alcoholism and drug abuse. The receptors of the GABA located in the reward pathway play a crucial role in enhancing the efficacy of baclofen.

The GABA receptor activation affects the release of dopamine in the reward pathway, which is responsible for causing the feeling of relaxation and happiness associated with addictive substances like alcohol and drugs. Therefore, baclofen, by acting on the GABA receptors lessens a person’s craving for alcohol and drugs.

Baclofen not much effective than placebo in treating alcoholism

To determine the effectiveness of baclofen for the treatment of alcoholism, a meta-analysis of 12 clinical trials comparing the impact of baclofen with placebo on at least one of the drinking outcomes like craving, anxiety or depression was conducted. It was performed under the supervision of Dr. Abi Rose and Dr. Andy Jones from the University of Liverpool.

The researchers found not much difference in the outcomes of baclofen compared to placebo. Although  baclofen almost doubled the abstinence rates at the end of the treatment, there was no significant reduction in the number of abstinent days. The research team observed that the medication failed to increase the number of abstinent days or decrease the number of heavy drinking days during the treatment. They also revealed that baclofen was not related with lower rates of alcohol craving, anxiety or depression.

Path to recovery

A complete treatment for AUD includes medically assisted detox and psychotherapy or counseling sessions under the guidance of trained medical professionals. One can witness significant outcomes through a holistic treatment and other effective lifestyle changes. Therefore, rather than losing hope, one should remain determined and confident upon his or her goal to achieve sobriety.

If you or your loved one is battling alcohol addiction, contact the Florida Alcohol Addiction Helpline for more information on the evidence-based treatment. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 866-220-5381 or chat online with one of our treatment specialists to know more about the  reputed alcohol rehabilitation centers in Florida facilitating treatment in a safe and compassionate environment.