The drug ondansetron may help treat early-onset alcoholism.

THE STUDY AND RESULTS

Researchers at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center divided 271 alcoholics into four groups receiving different dosages of the drug ondansetron (Zofran) or a sham pill. The patients, who all expressed a desire to stop drinking, also participated in weekly group therapy. The study found that those patients who developed alcoholism before the age of 25 (early onset) and were given ondansetron significantly lowered their alcohol consumption and had higher rates of abstinence than those on the sham pill. Those people whose alcoholism developed later in life showed no difference in their reaction to the medication than to the sham pill. The researchers suggested that ondansetron affected how the brain used the neurochemical serotonin, which has an effect on alcohol's impact also. They also suggested that this study and others suggest that early onset alcoholism may be related to a different neurological dysfunction than late onset.

WHAT'S NEW This is one of the first studies to find a difference in reactions to ondansetron between early onset and late onset alcoholism. It also found an optimum dosage for the drug.

CAVEATS Although this drug has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the United States, it does not have approval for use with alcoholism. The study was relatively short and would need to be replicated in a larger group for a longer term.

BOTTOM LINE The drug ondansetron may be an effective therapy to reduce drinking for people who became alcoholics before the age of 25.

FIND THIS STUDY Aug. 23/30 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association or at www.jama.com.

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