NASHVILLE, Tennessee — Nicotine patches, gums, and nasal sprays prescribed to help people quit smoking can also reduce drinking.
Originally designed as the control arm of a clinical trial to test whether prescription anti-smoking drugs would help people consume less alcohol, the study found that these common remedies worked just as well. After three months, the participants reduced their alcohol consumption whether they were taking nicotine replacement therapy or prescription drugs, such as varenicline or cytisine.
The researchers say these drugs may all play an important role in reducing drinking and smoking at the same time.
“A single drug to treat both risky drinking and smoking could efficiently and significantly improve health. Risky drinking and smoking often co-occur, and both pose a health threat through the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other important health outcomes,” lead author Dr. Hilary Tindle of Vanderbilt University Medical Center said in a press release.
Together with colleagues from Boston Medical Center and First Pavlov State Medical University in Russia, Dr. Tindle 400 people with HIV. Researchers are increasingly focusing on treating other conditions in people with HIV, as there are now effective treatments for the virus.
They recruited volunteers who identified themselves as drinking and smoking high-risk amounts and followed them up for a year. The researchers wanted participants who had five or more heavy drinking days per month (defined as five or more drinks in one day for men and four or more for women) and who smoked five or more cigarettes per day.
The study included placebo-controlled medications, so neither participants nor researchers knew which medication they were taking. Published in JAMA network openedthe study found that after three months, alcohol consumption decreased regardless of which participants in the anti-smoking treatment were taking.
“It was gratifying to see high-risk study participants included in NIH-funded research,” said lead researcher Matthew Freiberg, MD, MSc.
“Not only do they live with HIV, but they also have a high burden of hepatitis, multi-drug use and psychological problems. Such participants are often excluded from drug trials. If a drug as simple as nicotine replacement could help them, that would be a win.
Nicotine replacement therapy — the patches, gums, and sprays — are widely available at a relatively low cost. However, scientists have rarely seen them as a deterrent to drinking. Cytisine has been available since the 1960s.
“Another important observation in our post-hoc analysis was that the percentage of alcohol consumption was lower and the percentage of alcohol abstinence higher in the people who stopped smoking compared to those who continued to smoke. These results need further investigation to understand whether the findings were directly attributable to the drugs, smoking cessation, or both,” adds Jeffrey Samet, MD, MA, MPH, of Boston University Schools of Medicine and Public Health.
dr. Tindley adds that there is still much to learn about how the study drugs — called nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonists — may work to reduce alcohol consumption, but the work has shown that these drugs target receptors in the nervous system that encourage voluntary abstinence.
South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.