Generic heart pill shows early promise for alcohol use disorder

A generic drug used for decades to treat heart failure and high blood pressure shows early potential as a treatment for alcohol use disorders, a new study suggests.

The pill, spironolactone, costs pennies a day and is usually prescribed as a diuretic to reduce fluid retention in patients with heart failure. The drug works by blocking proteins known as mineralocorticoid receptors, which are located throughout the body and play a role in maintaining a healthy balance of fluids and electrolytes. Some previous lab experiments also suggest that these proteins may play a role in alcohol consumption.

For the new study, researchers tested the effects of spironolactone in mice and rats, then examined the medical records of more than two million people who drank alcohol to see if use of the drug was linked to reduced alcohol consumption. Both humans and rodents drank significantly less when they took spironolactone, according to research results published in Molecular Psychiatry.

“The available treatments aren’t effective for all people with alcohol addiction — one size doesn’t fit all,” said study co-senior Leandro Vendruscolom, PharmD, PhD, of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Baltimore. “More drugs will help treat more people with alcohol addiction.”

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