What if there was a drug that we could give to problem drinkers? Medication to help people quit smoking has proven to be highly effective, and now Australian scientists are working on a pill to help people overcome alcoholism.
Teams of scientists around the globe are collaborating on a number of projects to develop pills and vaccines to treat problem drinking. There is a solid link between alcohol and violent crime and the level of drink-fuelled violence in Australia has reached epidemic proportions. Could medication hold the key to tackling this issue?
Dr Mark Hutchinson, lead researcher at Adelaide University, seems to think so. His team have been developing the “stay sober” pill, which minimises the effects of alcohol. It is designed to drastically reduce the pleasure people get from drinking and, in turn, this should take away the incentive to drink. Alcoholic beverages that don’t get you drunk would be expensive, pointless and ultimately unappealing.
The new drug has already been tested on rodents. It affects the brain’s immune system, which has a knock-on effect of altering its response to alcohol. Mice that were given the drug appeared to be completely sober, but they also showed a preference for drinking water over alcohol too. Dr Hutchinson is optimistic that the drug will be ready to give to problem drinkers within the next three years.
Meanwhile, in South America, scientists from the University of Chile have spent the last year developing an alcohol vaccine. Anyone who is given the vaccine ends up experiencing very unpleasant side-effects when they drink: instead of getting drunk, they will feel extreme nausea, as if they have a severe hangover. Projects to develop other drugs are also underway in the US and Europe.
Of course, medications like these are unlikely to receive a warm welcome from the alcohol industry. Some critics have even speculated as to whether a “stay sober” pill could actually encourage people to drink more.
What do you think: will anti-drinking medication and booze pills work?