July 11, 2007 -- The drug Chantix is already helping smokers break their habit. And if researchers are right, it may do the same for alcoholics.
A study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco shows that varenicline, marketed by Pfizer under the name Chantix, has the potential to curb excessive alcohol consumption.
"There are very few effective medicines to treat alcoholism. Our hope is that this drug will provide a new and improved method for treating alcoholism," said neuroscientist Selena Bartlett, who led the study.
In the study, laboratory rats trained for months to consume high amounts of alcohol cut their drinking in half after taking Chantix.
The drug has a similar effect on curbing smoking. And, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 85 percent of alcoholics are smokers.
"There is a huge link in smoking and drinking," Bartlett said.
Here's how Chantix works: When alcohol or nicotine is consumed, a chemical called dopamine is released in the brain, creating temporary good feelings.
Chantix latches onto those same receptors, blocking the release of dopamine, which in turn blocks the cravings for nicotine or alcohol.
Though the drug has great potential, Bartlett cautioned against thinking of it as a magic pill.
"Developing drugs is a long process and we are just in the beginning," she said. "Our results are promising but we don't want people to think this is a cure-all."