Promising sleep drug helps man recover from alcohol addiction

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Researchers at The Florey Institute have reported a groundbreaking case where an insomnia medication aided a 31-year-old man in overcoming his severe alcohol addiction.

The case study, recently published in Clinical Case Reports, highlights the use of suvorexant (Belsomra), an insomnia drug, which significantly improved the man’s health and enabled him to cease his heavy drinking habit of 16 alcoholic drinks a day.

The individual, who had been suffering from poor liver function and severe insomnia, underwent treatment at St Vincent’s Melbourne’s Drug and Alcohol withdrawal unit, under the supervision of Professor Yvonne Bonomo.

Following a week of managed care, he continued the treatment from home over three months. “After 13 weeks on suvorexant, he’d had a complete turnaround. He had stopped drinking altogether, his liver function had improved, and he no longer had insomnia,” reported Florey Professor Andrew Lawrence.

The success of this case has prompted calls for full-scale human trials, as suvorexant has shown potential not only in alleviating insomnia but also in supporting withdrawal and preventing relapse in alcohol use disorder.

The drug works by blocking the brain’s orexin system, which plays a role in wakefulness.

Insomnia is a common issue among those struggling with alcohol use disorder, affecting nearly half of all individuals diagnosed with the condition. However, sleep disruptions are frequently overlooked in treatment plans, potentially hindering recovery efforts.

Given the promising results observed in this case, coupled with supportive evidence from preclinical animal studies, experts believe that dual orexin receptor antagonists like suvorexant could offer a new approach in treating alcohol use disorder, especially when complicated by sleep problems.

The findings have been welcomed by officials and advocates for mental health and addiction treatment. The Hon Ben Carroll, Minister for Education and Medical Research, emphasized Victoria’s role in leading medical research that substantially improves lives.

“We know addiction can have a detrimental impact on someone’s quality of life and mental health. That’s why the work of The Florey’s medical researchers is so important, helping to uncover new ways to treat alcohol use disorder,” Carroll said.

Similarly, the Hon Ingrid Stitt, Minister for Mental Health, reaffirmed the commitment to investing in research that advances understanding and treatment of addiction across Victoria.

As researchers look to expand their findings through larger-scale human trials, this case stands as a beacon of hope for potentially merging treatments for insomnia and alcohol addiction, addressing two intertwined challenges with a single therapeutic approach.

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The research findings can be found in Clinical Case Reports.

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