The research could help those dependent on alcohol
Scientists say they have found a way to stop an alcoholic’s craving for drink.
A team from Melbourne’s Howard Florey Institute
discovered blocking the action of the brain’s orexin system can also
prevent someone relapsing.
Team members say their work could lead to the development of drugs which could act as orexin blockers.
Orexin-producing cells are also thought to play a part
in regulating feeding, so the researchers believe they could also help
treat eating disorders.
There will be no magic bullet in the treatment of alcohol disorders
Bob Patton, National Addiction Centre
Alcohol-related deaths and illness are an increasing problem in the UK.
Deaths rose to 8,386 in 2005 compared to 4,144 in 2001, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
And hospital admissions for alcoholic liver disease have more than doubled in a decade, reaching 35,400 in 2004/5.
Orexin cells are in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
The chemical is involved in the “high” felt after drinking alcohol or taking illicit drugs.
In rat studies, a team led by Dr Andrew Lawrence created a compound which was seen to block the “euphoric” effects of orexin.
In one experiment, rats that had alcohol freely available to them stopped drinking it after receiving the orexin blocker.
In a second, rats that had gone through a detox
programme and were then given the orexin blocking drug did not show any
interest in alcohol when they were re-exposed to the kind of
environment which they had been conditioned to associate with alcohol
Dr Lawrence said: “Orexin reinforces the euphoria felt
when drinking alcohol, so if a drug can be developed to block the
orexin system in humans, we should be able to stop an alcoholic’s
craving for alcohol, as well as preventing relapse once the alcoholic
He added: “Our research shows that alcohol addiction and
eating disorders set off common triggers in the brain, so further
investigations may uncover drug targets in the orexin system to treat
The scientists are now carrying out further studies to discover exactly how the orexin system is activated.
Dr Lawrence said: “Before a therapeutic orexin-blocking
drug can be developed, we need to ensure that it will be safe to use in
the long-term and that issues surrounding a person’s compliance in
taking the drug are considered.”
Bob Patton, a health psychologist at the UK’s National
Addiction Centre, said: “The results of this preliminary research are
certainly interesting; however more research is required to determine
if it works on the complex human brain.
“We already know that [the drugs] Acamprosate and Naltrexone can help reduce cravings and promote abstinence.
“This study offers a further line of investigation that
could eventually help the one million alcohol dependant adults in the
“Of course there will be no magic bullet in the
treatment of alcohol disorders; pharmacological treatments work in
conjunction with psychological therapies to help address the symptoms
“And in the future, work on the genetic basis for
addiction could help to determine which treatments work best for
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