Journal article Open Access

A Pilot Trial of the Alpha-1 Adrenergic Antagonist, Prazosin, for Alcohol Dependence

Simpson, Tracy L.; Saxon, Andrew J.; Meredith, Charles W.; Malte, Carol A.; McBride, Brittney; Ferguson, Laura C.; Gross, Christopher A.; Hart, Kim L.; Raskind, Murray

Background:  Current medications for alcohol dependence (AD) show only modest efficacy. None target brain noradrenergic pathways. Theory and preclinical evidence suggest that noradrenergic circuits may be involved in alcohol reinforcement and relapse. We therefore tested the α-1 adrenergic receptor antagonist, prazosin, as a pharmacotherapy for AD. Methods:  We randomized 24 participants with AD but without posttraumatic stress disorder to receive either prazosin or placebo in a 6-week, double-blind pilot study. Medication was titrated to a target dose of 4 mg QAM, 4 mg QPM, and 8 mg QHS by the end of week 2. Participants received 5 medical management treatment sessions. Participants were reminded 3 times each day via a text pager to take medications and to call a telephone monitoring system once daily to provide self-reports of alcohol consumption and craving, the primary outcome measures. Results were analyzed using mixed linear regression adjusted for drinking days per week at baseline and week number. Results:  Twenty of the 24 (83%) subjects completed. Among the completers, the prazosin group reported fewer drinking days per week than the placebo group during the final 3 weeks of the study. Since only 1 woman was randomized to placebo and only three women completed the trial, the following results focus on the 17 male completers. The prazosin group reported fewer drinking days per week and fewer drinks per week during the final 3 weeks of the study; average total number of drinking days for the placebo group 5.7 (SEM 1.9) versus 0.9 (SEM 0.5) for the prazosin group, and average total number of drinks 20.8 (SEM 6.5) for the placebo group versus 2.6 (SEM 1.3) for the prazosin group. Rates of adverse events were equivalent across conditions. Conclusions:  Prazosin holds promise as a pharmacologic treatment for AD and deserves further evaluation in a larger controlled trial.

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