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Drug Blocks Brain System Involved in Alcoholism

Study in rats shows the therapy inhibits 'high' that people feel after drinking

THURSDAY, Dec. 14, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- A drug that blocks the brain system involved in alcohol craving proved successful in rats, Australian researchers report.

The findings suggest this kind of approach may prove effective in treating alcoholism.

The drug acts on the Orexin system, a group of cells located in the hypothalamus. This cell cluster produces Orexin, which plays a role in the "high" that people feel after drinking alcohol or taking illegal drugs.

"In one experiment, rats that had alcohol freely available to them stopped drinking it after receiving the Orexin blocker," researcher Dr. Andrew Lawrence, of the Howard Florey Institute in Melbourne, said in a prepared statement.

"In another experiment, rats that had gone through a detox program, and were then given the Orexin blocking drug, did not relapse into alcohol addiction when they were reintroduced to an environment in which they had been conditioned to associate with alcohol use," 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 has recovered," Lawrence noted.

He and his colleagues also found that alcoholism and eating disorders set off common triggers in the brain. That suggests that identifying drug targets in the Orexin system may lead to new treatments for both conditions.

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has more about alcoholism.

SOURCE: Howard Florey Institute, news release, Dec. 12, 2006
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