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Wednesday, 23 August, 2000, 03:46 GMT 04:46 UK
Cancer drug can help alcoholics
10,000 seek help for drink problems every day in the UK
A drug used in the treatment of cancer patients can help alcoholics to stop drinking, say scientists.

The drug, Ondansetron, is used to treat nausea in patients with cancer. But US research found that it can people with serious alcohol problems to reduce their drinking.

The study by scientists at the University of Texas found that patients given the drug cut their intake of alcohol by almost a third.

They were also more likely to stay off alcohol than those who were not given the drug.

The study found that those on Ondansetron consumed on average 1.5 drinks per day. This compared to an average of 3.5 drinks for those who did not undergo the treatment.

Similarly, those receiving the drug abstained from alcohol for 70% of the 11-week study. This compared to 50% for those who were not given the drug.

The authors of the study said their findings suggested that Ondansetron worked in patients with an early-onset of alcoholism.

They suggested it was a major breakthrough in treating the disease because of the failure of many other approaches.

People who have early onset alcoholism - usually before the age of 25 - are believed to have a biological predisposition towards the disease.

Ondansetron significantly reduced the urge to drink among these biological alcoholics

Dr Dr Bankole Johnson, University of Texas

They often respond poorly to counselling, are more likely to exhibit anti-social behaviour and have a high relapse rate.

Their craving for alcohol, during the early stages of the disease, is thought to be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

According to the University of Texas scientists Ondansetron can address that imbalance and reduce cravings.

Writing in the latest issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the authors said the drug helped to correct "disequilibrium in the brain".

Dr Bankole Johnson, professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the University of Texas Health Science Centre, said: "For decades it has been known that, for some, alcoholism runs in the family, and that certain brain abnormalities may be transmitted.

"Ondansetron significantly reduced the urge to drink among these biological alcoholics, presumably by correcting the underlying disequilibrium in the brain."

According to Alcohol Concern, almost one million children in the UK live in a home where one or both parents misuse alcohol.

It suggests that 10,000 people a day are attending alcohol services for help with their alcohol problem.

Of these 66% are men, 36% are unemployed, and 18% are either homeless or in temporary accommodation.

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14 Aug 00 | Health
Binge drinking 'can damage brain'
12 May 00 | Health
Britain's big booze binge
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