For decades, doctors have told patients with a drinking problem to join Alcoholics Anonymous - that only by giving up booze could they recover, but the science of treating alcoholism is changing. There are drugs to help you quit, and a Virginia company has something it says will make it possible for some alcoholics to drink moderately.
Dr. Gerry Moeller has been treating patients with addiction problems for 20 years, and the chairman of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Addiction Psychiatry says Alcoholics Anonymous is still the best bet for some.
“They just cannot maintain a health level of alcohol consumption, and abstinence really has to be the goal for them.”
But others can control their drinking with medication. Moeller can’t say which patients will benefit, but a Charlottesville company called Adial says it’s identified a genetic abnormality that makes about a third of all alcoholics vulnerable.
By giving them a low dose of ondansetron -- a drug already approved for the treatment of nausea -- CEO Bill Stilley says problem drinkers can become social drinkers.
“What we have shown in a 283-patient clinical study is that patients of this genotype that are on drug reduce how often they drink and also reduce how much they drink. They can pick up the bottle and not have to finish it.”
The FDA has yet to approve the new formulation known as ADO4, but Dr. Moeller is intrigued.
“It’s a development that’s interesting, that’s not just in addiction. I’ve seen other central nervous system medications that are starting to look at genotypes to see who’s going to respond or who will have side effects from the medication.”
And Adial’s CEO believes this approach to treatment may also help people who are addicted to tobacco or foods that make them fat.
“I think we’d all agree that it seems like some people have a greater craving than others, and we think we’ve identified a subset of people who have a craving for a particular biochemical reason, and that we can interrupt that and allow them to be closer to what might be called a normal person.”
It could be some years before ADO4 is available to the public. First, Adial plans two large clinical trials and while those are underway, it hopes scientists will come up with a way to test for the genetic abnormality using a cheap and easy cheek swab rather than the blood test that’s now required.