One of the most challenging aspects of maintaining sobriety for addicts is dealing with cravings for their drug of choice. This is no less true for alcoholics. Certain sights, sounds and smells can act as triggers for them to drink. Researchers at Concordia University are conducting tests to determine whether a smoking cessation drug can help alcoholics to resist cravings and stay sober.

Alcoholics and Triggers to Drink

A recovering alcoholic must always be vigilant about their sobriety. The person will need to make changes to their routine to avoid possible triggers. For some people, driving near places where they used to hang out and drink or go to buy liquor can trigger cravings. Other people find it challenging to walk past a bar, since they might hear sounds of glasses clinking or even smell alcohol on patrons who are leaving.

Other types of triggers are more subtle. A positive life event, like getting a new job or a promotion at work can be enough to trigger the urge to drink. Celebrations often include drinking, and an alcoholic may be lulled into a false sense that they can have a drink “just this once” and it won’t count.

Anti-Smoking Drug and Alcoholism Research

Nadia Chaudhri, from the University’s Faculty of Arts and Science, is testing whether a drug sold in Canada under the brand name Champix could also help those with an alcohol addiction. The associate professor of psychology commented that the compound, which is also known as Varenicline, is known to help alcoholics. People who use it who are heavy smokers and heavy drinkers tend to cut back on both types of habits.

To look at the effects of Varenicline, Chaudhri and her team conducted experiments using lab rats. The rats were exposed to a solution of alcohol and encouraged to drink. They became regular drinkers. After this point, the rats were placed in a different, alcohol-free environment where they had to “dry out.”

When the rats were returned to the environment where alcohol was available, the ones who had been given Varenicline were much more successful in resisting the cues to drink alcohol.

In another experiment set up using sucrose instead of alcohol, the team noted similar results for the rats who had been given Varenicline. When the drug was injected directly into an area in the forebrain that is important to addiction, it prevented relapse from occurring. There was no effect when it was injected into the midbrain area where dopamine neurons are found.

The team will continue its work to determine the effects of stress on relapse. The results of the study were published in Neuropsychopharmacology.