If you could take a pill to get rid of your biggest problem, would you?
Modernity means many things. Among them: the mass advent of pharmaceutical medicine and the assumption that for every affliction “there’s a pill for that” (or will be soon). People who live in the 21st century are more equipped than any previous generation to treat what ails them— often with more than one drug.
Medications That Prevent Disease?
But what about preventing disease? Can modern-day pills protect us, by:
- stopping the plaque from forming like it did in the brains of a parent and grandparent with Alzheimer’s?
- fending off the heart issues that poor food choices and a sedentary lifestyle cause over time?
- acting as a prophylactic for alcohol use disorder (AUD) in high-risk populations, such as those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
How Might Medication Prevent a Drinking Problem?
With respect to the last scenario, researchers are hopeful. Scientists at Scripps Research think they may have found two medications that could prevent drinking problems in people with PTSD. The disorder, typically affecting survivors of abuse and trauma, is a major risk factor for alcohol abuse and alcoholism. (As many as three-fourths of people with PTSD go on to develop an alcohol problem, according to some estimates.)
Prophylaxis for Alcohol Use Disorder? How It Works
Findings in the November 2022 issue of the journal Neuropsychopharmacology revealed how these two medications worked prophylactically for people with PTSD. Both drugs apparently target a protein in the brain known as “FKBP5.” It plays a role in both disorders (PTSD and AUD) and is strongly associated with exposure to stress and alcohol.
When scientists administered benztropine (Cogentin®), an FDA-approved medication for Parkinson’s disease, to rats with PTSD-like symptoms, there was a reduction in the rats’ alcohol-seeking behaviors. A similar result occurred when scientists treated the rats with another FKBP5 inhibitor: the experimental compound SAFit2, created specifically to block FKBP5.
PTSD in Rats vs. Humans?
How accurate, though, is the assumption that humans will respond to these drugs much like the rats in this study?
That will require more investigation in clinical trials involving real human subjects. Researchers appealed to some of the observable behaviors that traumatized rats share with humans who have PTSD and AUD. When rats are stressed or traumatized, the researchers said, rats drink too much alcohol and are fearful, anxious, irritable, and/or aggressive. Humans with PTSD and AUD act similarly.
The researchers added that because Cogentin is already FDA-approved, it might be used more quickly to prevent alcohol use disorders.
If a Pill to Prevent Alcoholism, What to Know
A pill that prevents alcoholism could be a breakthrough, especially for those with PTSD. However, experts caution not to think of it as a quick fix or panacea.
“Keep in mind that drinking is a response to and a coping mechanism for trauma,” FHE Health Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Beau A. Nelson, DBH, LCSW, said. “Even if a pill can prevent alcoholism, it will not change the presence of PTSD. That needs to still be addressed.”