Chantix and Alcoholism Study
Bartlett's team trained rats to drink large amounts of alcohol. That induced alcohol dependence, which is commonly called alcoholism.
The researchers injected varenicline, the active ingredient in Chantix, into some of the alcoholic rats. For comparison, other alcoholic rats didn't get Chantix.
The rats got roughly the same varenicline dose that rats get in nicotine studies. Those doses cut the rats' alcohol consumption by about 50%, Bartlett says.
The results came as a surprise.
Bartlett says she hadn't expected Chantix to be particularly effective in alcoholic rats that weren't also given nicotine. But the drug defied those predictions.
The rats had been drinking heavily for months, notes Bartlett. "This is not something that will just work if you have one or two drinks a week and take the drug. It's not that kind of drug," she predicts.
Chantix didn't affect other rats' taste for plain water or sugary water, the study also shows.
Why would a quit-smoking drug work on alcoholism?
Nicotine and alcohol both affect a certain brain receptor, and Chantix targets that brain receptor, Bartlett explains.
"The bottom line is they're working on similar mechanisms," Bartlett says of nicotine and alcohol. She says she had heard about Chantix about two and a half years ago, when the drug was still in development, and wanted to test it against alcoholism as soon as possible.
The study appears in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Chantix is made by the drug company Pfizer, which provided varenicline for the study but didn't fund the lab tests. The researchers note no conflicts of interest.