NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Nicotine nasal patches, gummies and sprays prescribed to help people quit smoking can also reduce their alcohol intake.
Originally designed as the control arm of a clinical trial testing whether prescription smoking cessation drugs would help people drink less alcohol, the study found that these common remedies worked just as well. After three months, participants reduced their alcohol intake, whether they used nicotine replacement therapy or prescription drugs, such as varenicline or cytisine.
The researchers say that these drugs could all play an important role in reducing alcohol consumption and smoking at the same time.
“A single drug to treat both alcohol consumption and risky smoking could improve health effectively and significantly. Alcohol consumption and risky smoking frequently coexist, and they both threaten health by increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other significant health problems,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Hilary Tindle of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in a press release.
With colleagues from Boston Medical Center and First Pavlov State Medical University in Russia, Dr. Tindle studied 400 people living with HIV. Researchers are increasingly focusing on treating other conditions in people living with HIV, as there are now effective treatments for the virus.
They recruited volunteers who identified themselves as drinking and smoking risky amounts and followed them for a year. The researchers wanted participants who had at least five heavy drinking days per month (defined as five or more drinks in one day for men and four or more for women) and who smoked five or more cigarettes per day.
The study included placebo-controlled medications, so neither the participants nor the investigators knew what medications they were taking. Posted in Open JAMA Networkthe study found that after three months, alcohol consumption decreased regardless of the smoking cessation treatment participants used.
“It was gratifying to see high-risk research participants included in NIH-funded research,” said the study’s principal investigator, Matthew Freiberg, MD, MSc.
“Not only are they living with HIV, but they also suffer from a heavy burden of hepatitis, multiple substance use and mental health issues. These participants are often excluded from drug trials. If a drug as simple as nicotine replacement could help them, that would be a win.
Nicotine replacement therapy – patches, gummies and sprays – is widely available at relatively low cost. However, scientists have rarely considered them a deterrent to drinking. Cytisine has been available since the 1960s.
“Another important observation in our post-hoc analysis was that rates of alcohol consumption were lower and rates of abstinence from alcohol were higher in people who quit smoking compared to those who continued. These findings require further study to understand whether the results were due directly to medication, smoking cessation, or both,” adds Jeffrey Samet, MD, MA, MPH, of the Schools of Medicine and Public Health from Boston University.
Dr Tindley adds that there is still a lot to learn about how the drugs being studied – called nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonists – may work to reduce alcohol consumption, but that work has shown that these drugs target nervous system receptors that encourage voluntary abstinence.
South West News Service writer Danny Halpin contributed to this report.