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NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

Drug to Treat Alcohol Use Disorder Shows Promise Among Drinkers with High Stress

A new medication that targets part of the brain’s stress system may help reduce alcohol use in people with alcohol use disorder (AUD), according to a new study by researchers at NIAAA.

“Medications have become an important tool for treating alcohol use disorders, but current medications are not effective for all people with AUDs,” said NIAAA director Dr. George Koob. “We’re committed to developing new medications to provide effective therapy to a broader spectrum of people with AUDs.”

As reported online in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, researchers led by Dr. Raye Litten, acting director of NIAAA’s Division of Medications Development, conducted a randomized clinical trial of a new compound called ABT-436, which is designed to block the effects of vasopressin, a neuropeptide produced in the hypothalamus of the brain. 

“Vasopressin helps to regulate the pituitary adrenal axis and other brain circuits involved in emotion,” explained Litten. “As such, it plays a role in regulating stress, anxiety and their interaction with AUD.”

Researchers found that participants receiving ABT-436 experienced more days of alcohol abstinence than those receiving the placebo. In particular, participants who reported high levels of stress appeared to respond better to ABT-436, in that both the frequency of their drinking and the number of heavy drinking days they experienced decreased.

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