Generic heart pills show early promise in alcohol use disorder

A new study finds that a generic drug used for decades to treat heart failure and high blood pressure shows early potential as a treatment for alcohol use disorder.

The pill, spironolactone, costs pennies a day and is often prescribed as a diuretic to reduce fluid retention in patients with heart failure. The drug works by blocking proteins known as mineralocorticoid receptors that are found throughout the body and play a role in maintaining a healthy balance of fluids and electrolytes. Some previous lab experiments also suggest that these proteins may play a role in alcohol use.

For the new study, researchers tested the effects of spironolactone in mice and rats, then examined the medical records of more than two million people who drank alcohol to see if taking the drug was associated with lower alcohol consumption. Both humans and rodents drank significantly less when they took spironolactone, according to The results of the study were published in Molecular Psychiatry.

“Available treatments are not effective for all people with alcohol use disorder – one size does not fit all,” says one of the study’s lead authors. Leandro Vindrosculum, MD, PhD, from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in Baltimore. “More medication will help treat more people with alcohol use disorder.”