At the core of my being, I am incredibly lazy. When I first heard the word “work” tossed around in meetings, I cringed. I mean I wanted to get sober but “work”? Ugh. That sounded hard. Couldn’t I just show up once or twice and poof! I’m cured and no longer drink and use drugs like a total pig?
Alas, that wasn’t the case. And some eight years later, I’m still doing the work. Yet the lazy bunny inside of me still thrills at the idea of a magical pill that can cure alcoholism. Recently, two separate studies revealed the possibility of medications holding the key to curing alcoholism, and I gotta say: the thought is still pretty darn appealing.
The idea that a cure for something as universally devastating as alcoholism could already exist in medicine cabinets around the world is indeed exciting. This is exactly what a new study from UCLA suggests. Researchers found that cravings for alcohol could be tamed by using ibudilast, a popular asthma medication widely used in Japan.
In the study, 17 men and women who drank an average of 21 days of the month and an average of seven alcoholic beverages per day were monitored. They were then given either ibudilast or a placebo for six days. Following a two-week break, the participants switched: those taking the placebo then started taking ibudilast and vice versa. Their reaction to holding and smelling their alcoholic drink of choice was also monitored. The study found that time and again, participants who took ibudilast reported fewer cravings and were more optimistic than those on the placebo. What’s more, ibudilast was well tolerated by the participants with no adverse side effects.
This isn’t the first time that ibudilast has made headlines in the world of recovery: four years ago, the FDA fast-tracked studies of the drug as a possible cure for meth addiction. Naturally, the drug is not yet approved for alcoholism treatment, but researchers hope that with more clinical trials, it soon will be.
Special K, M’kay
If we don’t know yet if a Japanese asthma medication holds the key for alcoholism, maybe our old friend ketamine is the answer? Ketamine—or as us ‘90s club kids called it, “Special K”—pops up all over the place in the world of medicine. Originally used as an animal tranquilizer and then later as an anesthesia given to American soldiers in the Vietnam War, ketamine is currently being used for everything from depression to chronic pain management. Psychologists at the University College London are now testing ketamine to see if a one-off dose of the drug could help drinkers wipe out their drink-related memories. “Memories that you form can be hijacked by drugs in some people,” said lead researcher Ravi Das in an interview with The Guardian. “If you were an alcoholic you might have a strong memory of being in a certain place and wanting to drink. Those memories get continuously triggered by things in the environment that you can’t avoid.”
As a person who snorted “K” several times recreationally, I can vouch for its power to erase memories, which was certainly part of its appeal to an escapism addict like myself. My last time on the drug in a club in Hollywood, and all I remember is house music, a Kelly Osbourne sighting and vomiting in the bathroom. Nevertheless, participants in the study who were administered the drug reported feeling “positive,” and that their cravings had subsided. Researchers acknowledge that a drug like ketamine that is widely used recreationally faces an uphill battle being widely accepted as a recovery drug. “There’s just the general social attitude that everything that’s illegal is terrible. There will obviously be that kind of narrow-sighted pushback,” said Das. “But if it’s safe and effective enough it should be recommended.” Like ibudilast, ketamine needs more clinical trials as a treatment for alcoholism before we see it being prescribed by doctors.
The Little Pills That Couldn’t
As incredible as science is, there are currently no magic little pills to completely cure alcoholism. Even widely prescribed medications like Antabuse and Naltrexone are far from being cure-alls for folks with drinking problems. Overdoses, gnarly side effects and general misuse of these drugs have slid them into the “buyer beware” category of recovery. Luckily, we don’t have to keep drinking while we wait for science to come up with the perfect pill. A solution currently exists, even if it does involve doing work. But all that work sure beats waiting for some bootleg Japanese asthma drug or falling into a K Hole.
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