For thousands of years, there have been alcoholics. Evidence shows that humans created alcoholic drinks as far back as 10,000 years.
One of the earliest drugs used by mankind, it’s abuse admonished by philosophers and clergy alike.
Solving alcoholism has occurred in many forms throughout history. Before any definitive cures existed, shame and abstinence were the only options people used. Later, taxation on alcohol or prohibitions attempted to prevent its abuse. More recently, groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have had good success.
There are few pharmaceuticals that work effectively to curb alcoholism. The US Food and Drug Administration only has 4 currently on their list that they approve. Professor Lara Ray, the study’s lead author, hopes that this new drug will become a more effective cure.
Ray is a Professor of Psychology and is the Director of the UCLA Addictions Laboratory.
Her study was about the anti-inflammatory drug Ibudilast, which the Japanese have used successfully to treat asthma. So what is the connection between asthma and being an alcoholic?
Asthma causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways. Excess alcohol consumption inflames the brain. It is this inflammation that can lead to deadly health conditions when an alcoholic tries to stop drinking suddenly. The deadly damage to the liver, heart, and pancreas are well known.
However, when an alcoholic’s brain becomes deprived of alcohol, their brain suffers uncontrolled synapse firing. This can lead to life-threatening seizures or deadly delirium tremens, in the worse cases. Frighteningly, sudden withdrawal from alcohol, when you are an alcoholic, can be fatal.
In Ray’s study, 17 men and 7 women who had heavy drinking lifestyles came to stay at the UCLA for the research duration.
For 6 days, half of the group received placebos. The other group spent the first 2 days on 20 mg, and the final 4 days on 50 mg.
After a two week break, they swapped the placebo group with the drug group and went through the same process. When confronted with their favorite beverages, and told to only sniff, not drink them, the Ibudilast group reported diminished cravings.
Group members were also tested for their anxiety levels. The drug group reported quicker emotional recovery after discussing life events that caused them difficulties. Also, the potential side-effects of nausea and abdominal pain did not cause anyone to drop from the group.
Ray is now pushing for clinical trials of Ibudilast. She is keen to test the drug on heavier, more chronic long-term drinkers, who desire to quit. It is important to see if the drug will work to cure people of alcoholism altogether.
What defines an alcoholic?
Alcoholism is when someone’s drinking becomes problematic. When a doctor is diagnosing someone as an alcoholic, this is the criteria they look for:
- When someone has been drinking large amounts of alcohol over a long period and they are unable to reduce their intake
- They spend the majority of their time acquiring and drinking alcohol
- They crave alcoholic drinks
- They become incapable of fulfilling responsibilities
- They have negative social interactions
- They develop chronic health problems
- They find themselves in risky situations
- When they try to quit, they suffer withdrawal syndrome
- They have developed alcohol tolerance
How does someone become an alcoholic?
Becoming an alcoholic is dependent on both environmental and genetic factors. A person is 3-4 times more likely to become an alcoholic if they have a parent or sibling who is.
During times of high stress, people seek relief. The accessibility to and inexpensive nature of many alcoholic drinks can cause people to believe having a drink is a quick fix.
A heavy partying culture can also lead to alcohol tolerance levels increasing. People will continue drinking, in many cases, not because they want to, but because they are afraid of experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
So until Ibudilast is thoroughly tested, an alcoholic does have some other options. An extremely successful option is joining an Alcoholics Anonymous group. The group began during the 1930s and has grown to over 2 million members worldwide.
The camaraderie of a group setting can make people feel they are not alone in their journey to be alcohol-free. Members strengthen and support one another. Alcoholics are able to dig out the root problems for their alcohol abuse.
Taking out weeds by the root is more successful than cutting them where they sprout from the earth.