Varenicline and nicotine patch help heavy drinkers quit smoking, study finds


A combination treatment with medication and the nicotine patch helps heavy drinkers quit smoking, according to a new study. Photo by Michael Stern/Wikimedia Commons

March 4 (UPI) — The combination of nicotine replacement therapy and the prescription drug varenicline is more effective in quitting smoking in people who are heavy drinkers than nicotine replacement alone, according to a study published Friday by JAMA NetworkOpen.

Among heavy drinkers, 44% of those treated with combination therapy for 12 weeks had quit smoking within the final weeks of therapy, the data showed.

In comparison, 28% of participants who received a nicotine replacement therapy combined with a placebo, or a dummy treatment that provided no clinical benefit, had quit smoking by the end of the study, the researchers said.

The combination treatment was also well tolerated by most participants and produced no serious side effects, they said.

“More alcoholics die from tobacco-related illnesses than from alcohol-related illnesses, so addressing both addictions should be part of the conversation early in treatment,” said study co-author Andrea King. , in a press release.

“That way we can better understand how to make treatment effective and long-lasting,” said King, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience at the University of Chicago.

One in five people who smoke are also heavy alcohol drinkers, while about one in 15 non-smokers are heavy drinkers, according to research, and there are biological mechanisms that link the two habits, according to King and his colleagues. colleagues.

However, studies of smoking cessation methods often do not include a representative population of heavy drinkers, many of whom do not respond as well to treatment designed to help them quit smoking, the researchers said.

Previous research indicates that the greater the alcohol consumption, the more intense the urge to smoke, and that alcohol acutely activates the brain’s reward pathways when smokers see images of smoking.

For this 12-week study, King and his colleagues gave 122 smokers who were also heavy drinkers either nicotine replacement therapy, in the form of a nicotine patch, in combination with the smoking cessation drug varenicline, which is sold under the name Chantix, or in combination with placebo.

During weeks 9 through 12, study participants were asked whether they abstained from smoking and their responses were confirmed by lab tests for nicotine levels, the researchers said.

In addition to quitting smoking, participants in both study groups also reduced their rate of alcohol consumption, the researchers said.

At the start of the study, male participants drank more than 14 drinks per week and female participants drank more than seven per week, and all had at least one heavy drinking day – defined as four to five drinks – per week, the data showed.

However, at the end of the study, the participants’ weekly drinking days decreased by 25%, the researchers said.

Neither varenicline nor nicotine replacement therapy has shown a decrease in alcohol consumption in smokers before, so it was unclear why study participants reduced their alcohol consumption during the study, they said.

“[Participants] didn’t get full treatment for alcoholism, but their drinking really went down once they paid attention to it and were asked about it regularly,” King said.

“So maybe it was them that intuitively knew about this connection and said, ‘I’m going to have to make a change,'” she said.

The findings underscore that alcohol use should be addressed more frequently in treatment programs for smokers who are trying to quit, King said.

For example, smoking cessation treatment could be tailored for heavy drinkers by giving a combination treatment like varenicline and nicotine replacement therapy to provide additional support, she said.

Treatment providers could also educate patients about how their drinking habits might affect their efforts to quit smoking, she added.

“Patients listen when we say, ‘This is what we know from a scientific basis and it could really help you,'” King said.

“It’s so important to identify these combinations of effective treatments and to be able to tell patients what works and help them through this important journey,” she said.

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