WASHINGTON — Doctors may have a promising new weapon in the fight against alcoholism — a medicine commonly used to treat heart problems and high blood pressure. The drug is called spironolactone, and researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Yale School of Medicine say it reduces alcohol consumption in mice, rats, and humans. Previous research suggests that mineralocorticoid receptors, which help regulate fluid and electrolyte balance in the body, could be linked to alcohol use and cravings.
“Combining findings across three species and different types of research studies, and then seeing similarities in those data, gives us confidence that we are onto something potentially important scientifically and clinically,” says study senior author Lorenzo Leggio, M.D., Ph.D., in a media release. “These findings support further study of spironolactone as a potential treatment for alcohol use disorder, a medical condition that affects millions of people in the U.S.”
The researchers found that increasing doses of spironolactone — commonly available under the brand names CaroSpir and Aldactone — in mice and rats decreased alcohol consumption in both male and female animals. More importantly, the medication did not cause any movement or coordination problems, nor did it affect their food or water intake. These findings provided promising evidence of spironolactone’s potential as a treatment option for alcohol use disorder.
In addition to the animal studies, a parallel study was conducted using health records from a large sample of people in the U.S. Veterans Affairs healthcare system. The records were analyzed to assess changes in alcohol consumption after spironolactone was prescribed for its approved clinical indications, such as heart problems and high blood pressure. The analysis revealed a significant association between spironolactone treatment and reduced self-reported alcohol consumption, particularly among individuals who reported hazardous or heavy episodic drinking before starting the medication.
Dr. George F. Koob, the director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), expressed optimism about the findings, highlighting the need for further research to evaluate the safety and efficacy of spironolactone in individuals with alcohol use disorder. Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), emphasized the importance of expanding treatment options for individuals with alcohol use disorder and addressing the stigma and barriers that prevent access to available treatments.
The results of this study provide hope for developing new medications tailored to the individual needs of people struggling with alcohol use disorder. As scientists continue to explore different pharmaceutical treatments, the ultimate goal is to provide a broader range of options for those seeking help in overcoming alcohol addiction. Further research, including randomized controlled studies, will be necessary to fully understand the potential of spironolactone in treating alcohol use disorder and to ensure its safety and effectiveness.
The study is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.