The smoking cessation drug Chantix (varenicline) may help curb problem drinking, a small study suggests. The drug may block the pleasurable effects of alcohol by increasing blood pressure, heart rate and feelings of nausea and sadness, the researchers said. Some people who take Chantix to quit smoking have reported they reduced the amount of alcohol they consumed.
In the study, 15 healthy participants who were heavy-to-moderate social drinkers took part in six sessions. In three sessions, they received a two-milligram dose of the drug, while in the other three sessions, they received a placebo drug. In all six sessions, after a three-hour wait they drank a beverage containing either a placebo, a low dose of alcohol, or a high dose of alcohol.
Before and after each session, the researchers asked them about their mood, tested their eye movements and measured blood pressure, heart rate and other physical responses. The participants said the Chantix-alcohol combination increased the unpleasant side effects of alcohol, and reduced its rewarding aspects.
“We think that varenicline may reduce drinking by altering the effects of alcohol. Our findings shed light on the mechanism underlying why people consume less alcohol when they have taken varenicline,” study author Emma Childs of the University of Chicago said in a news release.
The results of the study are scheduled to be published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
Chantix has been controversial because of its potential side effects. In July 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) required that the drug carry a “black box” warning about the potential risks of depression and suicidal thoughts, HealthDay reports. In June 2011, the FDA said the drug may be associated with a small, increased risk of certain heart problems in patients with heart disease.