Whether the drug might someday be approved to help problem drinkers cut back remains to be seen, said the researchers, who acknowledged that the study's small size is a limitation.
"We are not currently performing any studies with Chantix, although other groups are actively pursuing this line of research with a view to developing Chantix as an aid to people wanting to quit or cut down their drinking," Childs said.
Dr. Ihsan Salloum, professor of psychiatry and director of the alcohol and drug abuse treatment program at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, termed the study encouraging.
Noting that new ways of treating alcoholism are much needed, Salloum said that Chantix may have a niche among smokers with alcohol-dependence issues. "We need a lot more options in terms of medicines to help curb drinking," he said. "We have many options for depression and need more for alcoholism, considering it is one of the most common diseases around the world."
More research is needed, he noted, but "this medication may be helpful for people with a drinking problem who are also smokers."
The study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Learn more about alcoholism and how it is treated at the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
SOURCES: Ihsan Salloum, M.D., M.P.H., professor, psychiatry, and director, alcohol and drug abuse treatment program, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Emma Childs, Ph.D., research associate, University of Chicago; Feb. 16, 2012, Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, online
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