5 years ago

Effects of varenicline on alcohol cue reactivity in heavy drinkers

Walter Roberts, Emily L. R. Harrison, Sherry A. McKee



Clinical trials and human laboratory studies have established that varenicline can reduce rates of alcohol use among heavy drinkers. Less is known about the mechanisms by which varenicline has this effect on drinking behavior. Reactivity to alcohol cues is often cited as the primary cause of relapse among those being treated for alcohol use disorder, and several front-line treatments for alcohol use disorder work, at least in part, by minimizing cue-induced alcohol craving.


The current double-blind, placebo-controlled human laboratory study tested the effects of varenicline on alcohol cue reactivity in a group of heavy-drinking adult smokers and nonsmokers.


As part of a larger series of sequential human laboratory experiments testing the effects of varenicline on drinking outcomes, participants were assigned (between-participant) to receive either active varenicline (2 mg/day) or placebo. Following a titration period, participants (n = 77) attended a laboratory session during which they were exposed to alcohol and neutral cues using a standard cue reactivity paradigm.


Alcohol cue exposure increased craving for alcohol in both medication groups. However, participants receiving varenicline showed a smaller increase in alcohol craving compared to participants receiving placebo. The medication effect did not differ between smokers and nonsmokers. Among smokers, alcohol cue exposure also increased tobacco craving. Varenicline did not attenuate this effect.


Results support the use of varenicline for reducing alcohol use in heavy drinkers and identify a potential mechanism by which varenicline reduces drinking. Varenicline continues to show promise as a pharmacological treatment for alcohol use disorder.

Publisher URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-017-4667-9

DOI: 10.1007/s00213-017-4667-9

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