About half of Americans reported binge drinking in the last month, according to government data. Naltrexone, a pill that’s already FDA-approved and on the market, could curb that urge to drink excessively, a new study shows.
The drug is currently used to treat people with severe alcohol disorders. Study author and UCSF community health professor Glenn-Milo Santos says it helped casual drinkers significantly reduce how much and how often they drank. He compares it to Lactaid, which is used by people with lactose intolerance to help digest dairy.
Santos explains that alcohol increases dopamine levels in the brain, which is why drinking can be pleasurable. In turn, naltrexone targets dopamine production and reduces cravings.
“This medication is almost like an appetite suppressant for alcohol. And we believe that by reducing the buzz, or the pleasurable effects from alcohol and the urge to drink, this pill can help people reduce their volume of drinking.”
Naltrexone can also be used as a harm-reduction tool for at-risk drinkers, Santos says.
“Intervening when folks are experiencing problems with their alcohol consumption early on can actually prevent them from developing severe alcohol-use disorders down the line. So it's almost a way that we can intervene and support people earlier on before they experience more consequences from their alcohol use.”
Anyone can access naltrexone via prescription from a medical provider, not necessarily one who specializes in addictions.
“This medication has been FDA-approved for many decades. And unfortunately, it still remains underutilized, even for the folks who could benefit from this intervention. … Just increasing awareness in its efficacy and encouraging folks to talk to their provider is a good first step,” Santos says.