The Quit-Smoking Drug Chantix May Help Heavy Drinkers

Friends Drinking Beer Group of young happy friends sitting outdoors at a table in sidewalk cafe, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. Wroclaw, Poland.
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A drug used to help people stop smoking may also help heavy drinkers cut back the amount they drink, thereby reducing their harmful level of alcohol consumption. A study of the drug varenicline, marketed as Chantix, significantly reduced the level of consumption by a group of heavy-drinking smokers, who were seeking treatment for smoking, not for alcohol. Researchers believe the drug could possibly be a new treatment for those who need to reduce their level of harmful drinking.

At the Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco, researchers studied 64 patients seeking treatment for smoking cessation over a 16-week period. Part of the group was given Chantix and the other a placebo.

The Average Number of Are Drinks Reduced

The participants who took Chantix reduced their average number of drinks per week by 35.32% compared to those taking the placebo. The researchers found that the drug's effects on drinking were separate from its effects on smoking—there was no correlation between the average number of drinks and the average number of cigarettes they smoked.

The study found that Chantix did not reduce the number of days per week the participants drank but reduced the number of drinks they consumed when they did drink.

"People initiated drinking at the same rate, but they drank less once they started," said lead author Jennifer Mitchell. "If your usual pattern was to come home and have a few beers, you would still do that, but you might have one or two instead of four or five."

Reducing Harmful Drinking

The authors concluded that Chantix could potentially be valuable in reducing the harm caused by alcohol abuse. "If you currently drink seven drinks a night, and we can turn that into two or three, then you're not only drinking at a level that's going to harm you less, you're less likely to harm others, as well. If we could lower the rates of drunk driving, spousal and child abuse and other secondary effects of alcoholism, that would be tremendous," Mitchell said in a news release.

Chantix helps people stop smoking by blocking the pleasant effects of nicotine in the brain. The authors believe that alcohol and nicotine use a common pathway in the brain to provide feelings of pleasure and reward.

Low Side Effects in Controlled Group

The downside to Chantix, however, is the negative side effects of producing depression and thoughts of suicide. In this study, the researchers said the side effects were low and reduced over time, but that may be due to the fact that participants were carefully screened for mental health disorders before they were allowed into the study.

Further research is needed to examine side effects that include depression and suicidal thoughts. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

The researchers recommend future studies with participants who have comorbid mental health conditions as well as with heavy drinkers who do not smoke.

2 Sources
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  1. Mitchell JM, Teague CH, Kayser AS, Bartlett SE, Fields HL. Varenicline decreases alcohol consumption in heavy-drinking smokers. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2012;223(3):299-306. doi:10.1007/s00213-012-2717-x

  2. O'Brien J. Anti-smoking drug decreases alcohol consumption in heavy drinking smokers.