Most treatments for alcohol use disorders discourage people from drinking by eliminating the good feeling they get when alcohol hits their system, or even triggering an adverse reaction like nausea and vomiting, but the method in this study aims to stop the desire before alcohol even touches the lips. People with an alcohol use disorder typically associate drinking with certain places, sights and smells. Seeing their beverage of choice can trigger a craving for the positive feeling they get when they drink it.
Before moving to St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Dr. James Mckillop conducted a study at the University of Georgia to see if D-Cycloserine, a drug traditionally used to treat tuberculosis, could help erase alcohol craving triggers. Half of participants were given a placebo and half were given the drug, it binds to receptors in the brain that control learning and memory. “When the medication is given in small doses intermittently, we can basically turn up the gas on learning processes and when patients are learning that the triggers in their environment do not have to be acted on, we can increase that with the medication and in turn see reductions in craving.”
Participants were seated in a laboratory designed to mimic a bar, their drink of choice was poured for them and they were asked to smell it, but not drink it. After repeated sessions, participants’ brains no longer associated the sight of a bar or the smell of alcohol with drinking as strongly as they had before.
Those on the medication drank significantly less than those in the placebo condition. Their brains were able to delete the connections between triggers and craving. The research is promising, but still young, Mckillop is building a laboratory bar in this office at St. Joe’s to continue the study on a larger scale.