From the Journals

Heart failure drug a new treatment option for alcoholism? 



Spironolactone, a potassium-sparing diuretic typically used to treat heart failure and hypertension, shows promise in treating alcohol use disorder (AUD), new research suggests.

Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, and Yale University, New Haven, Conn., investigated the impact of spironolactone on AUD.

Initially, they studied rodents and found that spironolactone reduced binge drinking in mice and reduced self-administration of alcohol in rats without adversely affecting food or water intake or causing motor or coordination problems.

They also analyzed electronic health records of patients drawn from the United States Veterans Affairs health care system to explore potential changes in alcohol use after spironolactone treatment was initiated for other conditions and found a significant link between spironolactone treatment and reduction in self-reported alcohol consumption, with the largest effects observed among those who reported hazardous/heavy episodic alcohol use prior to starting spironolactone treatment.

“Combining findings across three species and different types of research studies, and then seeing similarities in these data, gives us confidence that we are onto something potentially important scientifically and clinically,” senior coauthor Lorenzo Leggio, MD, PhD, senior investigator in the Clinical Psychoneuroendocrinology and Neuropsychopharmacology Section, a joint NIDA and NIAAA laboratory, said in a news release.

The study was published online in Molecular Psychiatry.

There is a “critical need to increase the armamentarium of pharmacotherapies to treat individuals with AUD,” the authors note, adding that neuroendocrine systems involved in alcohol craving and drinking “offer promising pharmacologic targets in this regard.”

“Both our team and others have observed that patients with AUD often present with changes in peripheral hormones, including aldosterone, which plays a key role in regulating blood pressure and electrolytes,” Dr. Leggio said in an interview.

Spironolactone is a nonselective mineralocorticoid receptor (MT) antagonist. In studies in animal models, investigators said they found “an inverse correlation between alcohol drinking and the expression of the MR in the amygdala, a key brain region in the development and maintenance of AUD and addiction in general.”

Taken together, this led them to hypothesize that blocking the MR, which is the mechanism of action of spironolactone, “could be a novel pharmacotherapeutic approach for AUD,” he said.

Previous research by the same group of researchers suggested spironolactone “may be a potential new medication to treat patients with AUD.” The present study expanded on those findings and consisted of a three-part investigation.

In the current study, the investigators tested different dosages of spironolactone on binge-like alcohol consumption in male and female mice and assessed food and water intake, blood alcohol levels, motor coordination, and spontaneous locomotion.

They then tested the effects of different dosages of spironolactone injections on operant alcohol self-administration in alcohol-dependent and nondependent male and female rats, also testing blood alcohol levels and motor coordination.

Finally, they analyzed health records of veterans to examine the association between at least 60 continuous days of spironolactone treatment and self-reported alcohol consumption (measured by the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption [AUDIT-C]).

Each of the spironolactone-exposed patients was matched using propensity scores with up to five unexposed patients who had reported alcohol consumption in the 2 years prior to the index date.

The final analysis included a matched cohort of 10,726 spironolactone-exposed individuals who were matched to 34,461 unexposed individuals.


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