Can the Quit-Smoking Drug Chantix Help People Kick Alcohol, Cocaine?

Two new studies report intriguing evidence on new uses for a controversial anti-smoking drug.

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The successful, but controversial anti-smoking drug varenicline (Chantix) may also help people fight cocaine and alcohol addictions, according to two new studies.

The first study, published this month in the journal Alcohol and Drug Dependence, was a nine-week clinical trial that included 37 people with cocaine addiction. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that participants who took varenicline were half as likely to use cocaine — as measured by urine tests three times a week — as those given placebo. The participants also drank less alcohol while on varenicline. Further, in an experiment in which participants were given a choice between cocaine and money in varying sums, people taking varenicline valued cocaine less than those on placebo, suggesting that the quit-smoking drug made cocaine less rewarding.

The second study, which is forthcoming in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, involved 15 moderate to heavy social drinkers. While taking varenicline, they, too, found their drug of choice to be less enjoyable and more unpleasant. This comports with anecdotal reports of smokers who have told researchers that they found alcohol less desirable and therefore drank less while using varenicline to quit smoking.

MORE: Blood Pressure Drug Could Fight Cocaine Addiction

Neither study was funded by the pharmaceutical industry and the authors report no conflicts of interest. “A single medication that could decrease the use of both substances would be ideal,” said Hugh Myrick, associate professor of psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina and co-author of the drinking study, said in a statement, noting that many people are addicted to both alcohol and cocaine.

But varenicline is not without a downside. Although it has repeatedly been shown to be the most effective pharmacological aid for smoking cessation — in some cases, twice as effective as other medications — it also carries a black box warning from the FDA because of serious psychiatric side effects, including suicidal thoughts and behavior.

One study found that people taking varenicline to quit smoking were eight times more likely to engage in suicidal or self-injuring behavior than those using nicotine-replacement treatments like the patch. Other research has linked varenicline to an increased risk of heart problems in people with pre-existing cardiovascular disease, although the risk-benefit calculation here is complicated by the fact that smoking carries far greater risk to the heart and blood vessels than varenicline.

The drug is unique among anti-addiction medications in the way it affects the brain. Like nicotine, varenicline activates a specific receptor for a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, but it does so less intensely than the active ingredient of cigarettes does. The net effect is that the drug seems to help by both cutting cravings and making the formerly desired drug less pleasant — without making non-drug pleasures less intense. The most common side effect is nausea.

MORE: Trying to Quit Smoking? Don’t Start with Chantix, Say Some Experts

While people clearly need to be carefully monitored for psychiatric side effects if they use varenicline, more research is needed to determine whether it can be as helpful in fighting other addictions as it is for quitting smoking and, importantly, whether other medications that act similarly but with fewer side effects can be designed.

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

2 comments
grimsdell
grimsdell

i can genuinely state champix works i didnt plan on quiting as i doubted the drug would effect my needs of addiction to smoke. i bought champix because it was 30 dollars on the public bennifits scheme and i needed to save money over a period of a month as my smoking habbit is about 100 dollars a week. i had to cut down on spending some where over the month i thought ill give  champix a try might help me at least cut down so i began a trial of the medication.(instructions overview, smoke for the first week then cease, after 4 weeks if still smoking cease medication) After 4 days cigarettes tasted like cardboard and lightly inhaling exhaust fumes it was bearable to smoke and had an effect from nicotine. Day six this was the day i was going to try and stop smoking as a trial i had planned this all week and it was saturday a good day to quit but my allocator manger had called me on friday and said you asked for more hours now go to work so my plan of staying in bed as long as i can and not going out side to my smoking chair was scrapped. i woke up in the morning and said "try it f@Rk!ng stop smoking"i didn't  have my morning smoke or my 3 ciggetes driving to site 1 hour away i powered on the next 4 hours doing manual labour on a constuction site it actually helped me as all the lifting distracted me smoking kept me focused on physical exertion. The champix had an effect at this point the dose was at its full therapeutic dose after the 4 hours of work i began to realise that my need for nicotine was very low i actually felt very confident i had an urge out of habbit for a cigarette but cravings where defiantly not there. I went with this feeling. The last cigarette i had was that night after all that hard work i started drinking like the night before i had inexcess of ten drinks i talked my self into a ciggerete not entirely because 3 people around me were smoking but because i couldn't remember the last one i had smoked The previous night when i was drinking even heavier. so i looked out to the city over the bay in a really nice spot at home and said remebmer this one with my whiskey in hand and lit up of course it tasted like carboard felt like inhaling exhast fumes gave me a slight effect and was over before i knew it.


Alcohol was something i consumed every day about 3-4 beers after work and every 2nd weekend in-excess so the following week i decided to drop the booze to save money not because i was going to spend the money that day i have a plentiful cabnet of liquor, fridge of beer and dry store of ready to drink mixes. the challenge was to reduce drinking daily and i stopped the next day i decided i was going to eat better and diet. 

Its very hard to explain the effect of champix i seem to have had the effect of really acute self control and not stressed by addiction and lesser cravings i dont have a compulsion to treat my self to a cigarette or a drink or even a sugary dough nut or chips with that burger or even a burger at all. Im not shure why and i dont really care at this stage i guess it has something to do with endorphin receptors it might not work for everyone it really works for me with minimum will power initially this is doing alot to make it easier.


smoking background

,i have abstained from smoking 3 years in one attempt and 10 weeks max on about eight other attempts in the las 14 years since the time i started smoking. if your choking every day on mucus, throwing up from coughing spasms and stripping your throat till it bleeds from coughing not wanting to quit just wanting to cut down or running out of petty money or been saving for this treatment give this ago.


so the laughing point its only been 8 weeks without smoking, kept to my diet and lost 9 killos of weight 115kg to 104 at 193 cm reasonable diet.  i have a work Christmas function were alcohol will be served for free i havent drank any alcohol since weekend 2 but it will be expected of me i havent really planed on not drinking and really dont want to mess my diet so ill moderately drink but i definitly have the will power to not smoke and the experience from other attempts.


the diet and exercise really helped me 9 years ago when i started to quit for that 3 year period if your on a good thing make those positive goal attempts i was undecided and didn't really plan for this butt its working. 

Australia calls this product champix

quitsmoking
quitsmoking

Quitting smoking is hard but well worth the effort. The best chance for successfully quitting smoking is to use a method that has been proven to work. I recommend this method.