Yale study looks at new approach to breaking cycle of heavy drinking


NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — There’s evidence that drinking too much in college is linked to problems of alcohol abuse.

A Yale study looked into if early intervention could have an impact. The study zeroed in on two things. One, by the time most people get treatment for heavy drinking they are in their 40’s and 50’s. Two, young adults have the highest rates of alcohol dependence. Partying is an element of college life, and a big gulp of it is drinking.

“It’s always there,” said college senior Kossandra Bertulis. “It’s just a matter of knowing what’s safe and what to do.”

“The environment of the young adult years really allows people to drink at high levels,” said Dr. Stephanie O’Malley, Yale School of Medicine professor of psychiatry. “For some people, that sets in motion something that can turn into a long-term problem.”

O’Malley is the lead investigator of the study that looked into the impact of the drug Naltrexone. Could it help young adults reduce their drinking?

“Naltrexone is an opiate antagonist,” said O’Malley. “It occupies brain opiate receptors, not stimulate them, and we think it reduces some of the rewarding effects of alcohol that lead to further drinking.”

Researchers found that participants who were given the drug for eight weeks drank less compared to the control group.

“We think by taking a dose when they were anticipating drinking, it helped them think more clearly about what they were doing and to focus on changing their behavior,” said Dr. O’Malley.

It is the first drug treatment study focused on alcohol use in people ages 18 to 25. While critics say abstinence is the safest treatment, Dr. O’Malley says the use of this drug has benefits.

“There’s biology involved in whether people can manage that, and we think addressing some of the biological basis of heavy drinking can be an effective way of helping people change their behavior,” said Dr. O’Malley.

The reality, she says, is that young people are more willing to drink less than to give it up completely.

“Our data would suggest it could be a treatment approach for young adults perhaps drinking more than they want to,” said Dr. O’Malley.

The hope is that college counseling centers and primary care providers will look into this approach as a way to prevent what could end up as a cycle of heavy drinking.

One-hundred-twenty-eight people took part in the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health. Another study is already underway to help heavy drinkers who are also smokers.

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