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Epilepsy Drug Holds Promise as Treatment for Alcoholism
Date:10/9/2007

Topiramate reduced heavy drinking and helped to boost abstinence, study finds

TUESDAY, Oct. 9 (HealthDay News) -- An drug used to treat epileptic seizures could be added to the short list of medications prescribed to help alcoholics control their addiction, a new study suggests.

The drug topiramate proved measurably better than a placebo at helping alcoholics stay away from heavy drinking, the study authors said.

"Not only is there an effective new treatment, but there's a medication that you can take at the time of crisis. You can start immediately when you need help," said study author Dr. Bankole Johnson, chairman of the University of Virginia's Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences.

For many alcoholics, treatment is no different than it was 50 or 60 years ago: They must rely on their own willpower, often with the help of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. But some -- about 3 percent to 4 percent, Johnson estimates -- try to quit drinking with the help of prescription medications.

In the new study, conducted between 2004 and 2006, Johnson and his colleagues recruited 371 alcoholics between the ages of 18 and 65. The subjects, both male and female, received daily doses of topiramate -- up to 300 milligrams -- or a placebo along with a brief weekly visit with a counselor.

Both treatments seemed to help patients. Over 14 weeks, the percentage of heavy-drinking days per week dropped from 81.9 percent to 43.8 percent among those who took topiramate and from 82 percent to 51.8 percent among those who took a placebo.

Topiramate also led to a higher rate of achieving 28 or more days of continuous non-heavy drinking and 28 or more days of continuous abstinence, the researchers said.

The drug appears to work by cutting the craving for alcohol, according to Johnson.

The findings are published in the Oct. 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Ass
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