Author(s): Heilig M, Egli M
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Abstract Alcoholism is a major public health problem and resembles, in many ways, other chronic relapsing medical conditions. At least 2 separate dimensions of its symptomatology offer targetable pathophysiological mechanisms. Systems that mediate positive reinforcement by alcohol are likely important targets in early stages of the disease, particularly in genetically susceptible individuals. In contrast, long term neuroadaptive changes caused by chronic alcohol use primarily appear to affect systems mediating negative affective states, and gain importance following a prolonged history of dependence. Feasibility of pharmacological treatment in alcoholism has been demonstrated by a first wave of drugs which consists of 3 currently approved medications, the aldehyde dehydrogenase blocker disulfiram, the opioid antagonist naltrexone (NTX) and the functional glutamate antagonist acamprosate (ACM). The treatment toolkit is likely to be expanded in the near future. This will improve overall efficacy and allow individualized treatment, ultimately taking in account the patient's genetic makeup. In a second wave, early human efficacy data are available for the 5HT3 antagonist ondansetron, the GABA-B agonist baclofen and the anticonvulsant topiramate. The third wave is comprised of compounds predicted to be effective based on a battery of animal models. Using such models, a short list of additional targets has accumulated sufficient preclinical validation to merit clinical development. These include the cannabinoid CB1 receptor, receptors modulating glutamatergic transmission (mGluR2, 3 and 5), and receptors for stress-related neuropeptides corticotropin releasing factor (CRF), neuropeptide Y (NPY) and nociceptin. Once novel treatments are developed, the field faces a major challenge to assure their delivery to patients.
This article was published in Pharmacol Ther
and referenced in Journal of Addiction Research & Therapy