FDA-Approved Pill Curbs the Urge to Binge Drink, Scientists Say

Researchers found that naltrexone, a medication already approved by the FDA for alcohol and opioid use disorder, significantly reduced binge drinking, the number of drinks consumed, and alcohol cravings in male study participants.

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking alcohol where a person consumes a large amount in a short time. Typically, this means drinking five or more drinks on one occasion for men and consuming four or more drinks on one occasion for women.

This habit-forming lifestyle can be very harmful and may lead to alcohol poisoning, accidents, and injuries. It can also increase the risk of developing long-term health problems such as liver disease, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer.

Additionally, binge drinking can lead to driving under the influence, engaging in risky sexual behaviors, and violence. Curbing binge drinking typically involves using willpower to resist the urge to consume several drinks in one session.

However, scientists may have discovered another strategy to reduce the urge to binge drink.

A new study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that naltrexone — a non-addictive medication approved to treat severe alcohol use disorder (AUD) and opioid use disorder (OUD) — reduced excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking in men with mild to moderate AUD.

In the double-blind placebo-controlled trial, researchers recruited 120 sexual and gender minority male participants who engaged in binge drinking or had mild to moderate AUD. The participants were given a placebo or 50mg of naltrexone or weekly counseling for 12 weeks.

The participants took either the placebo or naltrexone when they felt urges to drink or were in a situation that raised their risk of binge drinking. The research team also recorded their alcohol intake and measured changes in alcohol biomarkers using urine and blood tests.

After the trial concluded, the team found that naltrexone was associated with significant reductions in the number of binge-drinking days, frequency of weekly binge-drinking incidents, number of alcoholic drinks consumed, and intensity of alcohol cravings. Moreover, these effects continued six months after treatment.

The most frequently observed side effect among the participants was nausea, headaches, rash, and diarrhea. However, the study authors note that the differences between the placebo and naltrexone groups were not statistically significant.

The scientists say that their findings suggest naltrexone may be an effective option for people who are not significantly dependent on alcohol and want to manage their binge drinking as needed.

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