A drug developed to treat high blood pressure has unexpected benefits for patients with severe withdrawal symptoms.
Researchers at Yale University have found that prazosin, a drug developed to treat high blood pressure, can also reduce alcohol use in patients with severe withdrawal symptoms.1
“There has been no treatment readily available for people who experience severe withdrawal symptoms,” said Rajita Sinha, an author on the study and director of the Yale Stress Center. “These are the people at the highest risk of relapse and are most likely to end up in hospital emergency rooms.”2
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include shakes, heightened cravings, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping, which can easily lead to poor treatment outcomes.
In order to study the possible effects of prazosin on alcohol use, Sinha and her co-authors designed a 12-week, double-blind trial, recruiting 100 patients with alcohol dependence. The researchers collected information on the participants’ self-reported drinking habits (including average drinks per day) and their moods, levels of anxiety, alcohol cravings, and sleep quality ratings.
At the end of the 12-week study, researchers found that participants with high alcohol withdrawal symptoms who received prazosin reported fewer “drinking” and “heavy drinking” days than patients who received a placebo.1 Patients with high withdrawal symptoms also reported decreased anxiety, depression, and alcohol cravings. Patients with no or low withdrawal symptoms did not receive a similar benefit from prazosin.
Originally developed to treat high blood pressure, prazosin has also been shown to affect stress centers in the brain, improving memory while reducing anxiety and cravings.2 Sinha’s lab has previously found that the recovery process disrupts stress centers in the brain, especially in patients with severe withdrawal symptoms.
Fortunately, these disruptions decrease over time. The hope, Sinha said, is that prazosin could bridge the gap between patients’ initial withdrawal symptoms and long-term recovery.
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1. Sinha R, Wemm S, Fogelman N, et al. Moderation of prazosin’s efficacy by alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Am J Psychiatry. 2020:appiajp202020050609.
2. Drug eases recover for those with severe alcohol withdrawal. Science Daily. November 19, 2020. Accessed November 25, 2020. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201119124716.htm