Blood pressure drug may help problem drinkers, curb harmful effects on brain from alcohol

BRISBANE, Australia — Help may be on the way in an unexpected form for those dealing with the effects of heavy alcohol use. Pindolol, a widely available and affordable medication used to treat high blood pressure, has shown significant promise as an effective method of alleviating anxiety symptoms among problem drinkers. Furthermore, researchers from the Queensland University of Technology say that further tests even suggest the drug is capable of stopping alcohol’s harmful effects on the human brain’s ability to produce new cells.

Overall, the study’s research using adult lab mice indicates that pindolol may be a legitimate option for those looking to treat alcohol use disorders.

“This is a drug that is inexpensive and already available in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia,” says principal investigator and QUT neuroscientist Professor Selena Bartlett in a release. “It’s a beta-blocker that is prescribed for high blood pressure, angina and heart arrhythmias.”

“We have been studying it for a number of years and have already shown in animal models that it reduces alcohol intake when there is long-term consumption,” she continues. “In this latest study, we investigated the drug’s effect on other alcohol associated issues –  anxiety and neurogenesis.

Long-term, and excessive, drinking habits have been proven to cause feelings of anxiety, and making matters worse, most of the time these anxious feelings only get worse when long-time drinkers attempt to quit. Additionally, alcohol abuse is known to have serious neurological drawbacks as well; actively reducing neurogenesis, or the human brain’s ability to form new neurons.

“We showed that pindolol reduced alcohol-associated anxiety-like behavior in mice and also alleviated the damaging effects of alcohol consumption on newly formed and immature brain cells,” Professor Bartlett explains. “The next step is to conduct clinical trials with pindolol and we have started discussions with a medical specialist to progress that,”

After giving a group of lab mice excessive amounts of alcohol for a period of 12 weeks, pindolol successfully alleviated anxiety in the mice. Also, two full weeks of pindolol treatment after 18 weeks of alcohol consumption was found to restore and heal damage done to both new and immature neurons in the lab mice’s brains.

The research team discovered that pindolol appears to affect serotonin receptors in the brain. Serotonin is considered the “feel good” nerve cell chemical and neurotransmitter. Pindolol also interacts with the organic chemical noradrenaline, which is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response.

The study is published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.