Blood pressure drug Prazosin can help relieve alcohol withdrawal, study reveals

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Considering how big a role it plays in popular culture, it’s easy to forget at times just how destructive alcohol use can be if it isn’t kept in check. Indeed, alcohol addiction is a serious problem that can result in awful withdrawal symptoms after quitting. Now, help may be on the way for recovering alcoholics from an unexpected source. Researchers at Yale University say prazosin, a drug developed to treat hypertension, can also help problem drinkers kick the habit.

A group of 100 individuals entering an outpatient treatment center for alcohol use disorder took part in this research. Half of those subjects received a placebo, while the others took prazosin for the duration of their stay.

The results of this double-blind experiment are quite striking. Patients who reported experiencing especially severe withdrawal symptoms (shaking, insomnia, anxiety) appeared to benefit the most from the drug. These individuals were able to significantly decrease their number of relapse episodes in comparison to patients taking a placebo.

Notably, prazosin didn’t seem to help or benefit patients only dealing with mild symptoms.

“There has been no treatment readily available for people who experience severe withdrawal symptoms and these are the people at highest risk of relapse and are most likely to end up in hospital emergency rooms,” says corresponding author Rajita Sinha, a professor of neuroscience and director of the Yale Stress Center, in a university release.

Prazosin has wide-ranging uses in medicine

Today, prazosin is mostly prescribed as a treatment for prostate issues. Moreover, prior Yale research focusing on prazosin had concluded that the drug interacts with the brain’s stress centers, improves working memory, and diminishes anxiety.

When a long-time drinker cuts out alcohol, the stress centers in their brain go through a period of turbulence. As the individual continues to abstain from alcohol, eventually those neural disruptions dissipate. So, study authors theorize prazosin could work well as a “bridge” for recovering alcoholics to help manage withdrawal symptoms until their stress centers return to normal.

The study is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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