WEDNESDAY, Feb. 19, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- An anti-epilepsy drug might help problem drinkers reduce their alcohol consumption, according to new research.
The study of the drug topiramate (Topamax) included 138 heavy drinkers who were divided into two groups. About half took Topamax for 12 weeks at a maximum dose of 200 milligrams a day, while the other half took an inactive placebo. Both groups of patients underwent brief counseling to help them reduce their drinking.
By the end of the study period, patients in the placebo group were five times more likely to have had a heavy drinking day than those in the treatment group. In addition, more than twice as many patients in the Topamax group had no heavy drinking days during the last four weeks of the study compared to the placebo group.
The patients in the treatment group also had more days without any drinking compared to those in the placebo group, according to the study published online Feb. 14 in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
"This study represents an important next step in understanding and treating problem drinking," study lead author Dr. Henry Kranzler, a professor of psychiatry and director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Studies of Addiction, said in a university news release.
"Our study is the first we are aware of in which topiramate was evaluated as an option for patients who want to limit their drinking to safe levels, rather than stop drinking altogether," he added.
Further analysis showed that only people with a specific genetic makeup found in 40 percent of European-Americans benefited from treatment with Topamax.
The findings could help lead to personalized treatments for heavy drinking, the researchers suggest.
"Our hope is that the study will result in additional research focusing to help patients who have struggled with heavy drinking and the problems it causes, but who are unable or unwilling to abstain from alcohol altogether," Kranzler explained.
Topamax might help people to drink at safe levels, he noted. "These findings may allow us to predict, in advance, who may benefit from treatment, thereby avoiding the unnecessary use of the medication," Kranzler said.
The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism outlines the health effects of alcohol.