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Activating brain pleasure center helps smokers quit { July 10 2007 }

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Smokers' pill might snuff urge to drink
Study suggests drug can curb addictions

By Andrew Bridges
Associated Press

July 10, 2007

WASHINGTON -- A single pill appears to hold promise in curbing the urges to both smoke and drink, according to researchers trying to overcome addiction by targeting a pleasure center in the brain.

The drug, called varenicline, already is sold to help smokers kick the habit. New but preliminary research suggests it could help heavy drinkers quit too.

The drug might someday treat addictions to everything from gambling to painkillers, researchers said.

But several experts not involved in the study cautioned that there is no such thing as a magic cure-all for addiction.

Pfizer Inc. developed the drug specifically as a stop-smoking aid and has sold it in the United States since August under the brand name Chantix.

Varenicline works by latching onto the same receptors in the brain that nicotine binds to when inhaled in cigarette smoke, which leads to the release of dopamine in the brain's pleasure centers. The drug blocks any inhaled nicotine from reinforcing that effect.

A study published Monday suggests alcohol acts on the same locations in the brain. That means a drug that makes smoking less rewarding could do the same for drinking. Preliminary work, done in rats, suggests that is the case.

"The biggest thrill is that this drug, which has already proved safe for people trying to stop smoking, is now a potential drug to fight alcohol dependence," said Selena Bartlett, a neuroscientist with the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco who led the study. Details appear this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Pfizer provided the drug for the study, but was not otherwise involved in the research.

But just as varenicline doesn't work for all smokers, it's highly unlikely it would for all drinkers.

"Is this going to be a cure-all? No, not for smoking or alcoholism because both diseases are more complicated than a single target or single genetic issue," said Allan Collins, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Colorado who was not connected to the study.

Copyright 2007, Chicago Tribune

Activating brain pleasure center helps smokers quit { July 10 2007 }
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