Being a recovered alcoholic and boozeless for nearly 14 years, you can imagine how wide my eyes opened when I read recent headlines about research on lomazenil.
The commotion began when some zealous journalists got loosey-goosey with the facts – claiming that researchers at Yale University had released results of a preliminary study showing that the drug lomazenil, when taken before drinking, weakens the effect of alcohol.
Well, turns out that is not exactly true. According to folks at Yale, there has been no study at Yale about lomazenil’s ability to thwart the effects of alcohol. Yale is NOT developing a “sober pill.”
However, the Dept. of Veteran’s Affairs in West Haven, Connecticut – which is kind of close to Yale – will begin a clinical trial this summer to evaluate “the benzodiazepine partial inverse agonist, lomazenil, as an agent that could reverse alcohol’s effects on subjective intoxication, alcohol’s effects on driving using a driving simulator and on measures of electrophysiology in the laboratory in healthy subjects.”
The lead investigator is Deepak D’Souza, who IS an associate professor of psychiatry at Yale – which may explain why the reporters assumed Yale is developing a “sober pill.” According to the detailed description of the trial: “Alcohol is abused commonly, but there is no antidote for alcohol intoxication the way naltrexone or naloxone is an antidote for opioids. A medication that has the potential to block alcohol actions in the Central Nervous System could act as a unique medication in the treatment of alcohol intoxication and alcoholism.”
We won’t know the results of the clinical trial until after it ends in March 2016 – which gives us plenty of time to contemplate the consequences of a “sober pill.” To us alcoholics, a pill that would weaken alcohol’s effects simply means we could drink even more before getting really wasted. Some well-intentioned observers seem to think that lomazenil could make it easier for alcoholics to wean themselves off alcohol. That’s a nice thought but we don’t think or drink like that.
All the banter about sober pills and lomazenil has me wondering how such a drug might affect those of us who are dual-diagnosed – blessed with another mental illness besides our alcoholism. Alcohol is a depressant and many alcoholics who have other mental illnesses, such as depression or bipolar, self-medicate with alcohol.
We unwittingly worsen our depression by trying to relieve it. Lomazenil may weaken the effect of alcohol on the brain, but does it similarly weaken alcohol’s role as a depressant? What difference does it make if you can recite the alphabet and stand on one foot if you still intend to kill yourself when you get home?
It has taken me years to comprehend the interconnectedness of my depression and alcoholism. They are conjoined. Completely inseparable. I cannot expect to stay well if I treat one and not the other. Likewise, I cannot indulge one without expecting the other to demand the same indulgence. So, it really doesn’t matter to me whether there is a pill that will keep me from getting drunk. If such a pill existed I know that I – a dual-diagnosed alcoholic – could and would drink more. Until someone can prove otherwise, it sounds like lomazenil would actually make my depression and alcoholism worse.
I find the notion of pharmaceutical buzz-kill fascinating and look forward to the results of the trial. I am also looking forward to how the zealous psuedo-reporters are going to explain that Yale is NOT developing a “sober pill.” It’s such a shame when the facts get in the way of a good story.
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Last reviewed: 23 May 2012