Is a ‘Stay Sober’ Pill in the Works?

Sep 29, 2011 2:33pm

Are scientists developing a “stay-sober” pill?

For the heavy drinkers among us, the development of a pill to keep humans sober – a possibility proposed in a report published today in The Telegraph – may seem enticing. But fans of the weekend bender perhaps ought not to rejoice yet.

In the study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, instead of scouring the local bar scene for experimental subjects, the researchers conducted their tests on mice.

Yes, mice.

Some of these were garden variety lab mice, while others were genetically tweaked in a way that the researchers believed might make them better able to handle their booze.

To get the rodents tipsy, researchers skipped the tiny tequila bottles and gave the mice shots of a different variety – specifically, they used a needle to inject them full of alcohol.

The drug that was used by these researchers in their experiments was not a new one. It was naloxone, a drug currently approved by the FDA for treatment of heroin overdose in humans. But this form of naloxone was slightly different, in that it targeted glial cells – the brain’s protector cells – instead of neurons.

Some of the mice got an injection of the drug, while others did not. The researchers then compared how the different groups of mice stumbled around in their cages. Part of the experiment even tested the animals’ ability to stay on top of a rotating dowel – think of a lumberjack balancing on a floating log, and you’ll get the basic idea.

Neither the genetically engineered mice nor those that got the naloxone suffered impaired motor skills, compared with control mice who had no protection from alcohol’s ill effects.

But as you read this, two things should become immediately clear. The first is why it was necessary to use mice, and not humans, in this experiment. Even the most treacherous frat house hazing probably would not involve separating the lightweights from the boozehounds, injecting them with alcohol-filled syringes, and setting them loose on an obstacle course. It’s just not how humans do alcohol. Suffice it to say that if this is indeed how you spend your weekends, it’s unlikely that science can solve your problems.

The second thing that should become clear is that it could be a long, long time before a pill to help you maintain your sobriety hits the shelves at your local pharmacy.

Still, Susan Weiss of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said the report “shows promise for a new molecular target” when developing sobriety drugs. She said this approach is also being investigated in drug addiction and pain relief.

Until the day that a sobriety drug is available, drinkers can take heart that there are still the old-fashioned ways to deal with booze-soaked evenings out — a designated driver, emergency cab fare home … or a friend kind enough to hold your hair back.

MedPage Today’s Kristina Fiore contributed to this report.

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