drinking at age 10. Beer was always available, at family gatherings,
wakes, car races, his familyís dance hall. Thirty years later he could
still down "87 beers at one sitting," he said. "I was a
binge drinker. I could go for a week or more without drinking. But I was
always planning for the next drink."
"I was a mean drunk; my family was in upheaval. I owned
a garage, but I alienated all my customers
and lost my business," Jake said. "I couldn't function. I had to appease my monster."
After numerous DWI offenses, he was sent to
prison for 18 months, then released on
parole. "This wasn't some kind of treatment center,"
he said. "It was real prison with
murderers, rapists and all kinds of mean people. But
when I got out, the first thing I needed was a drink." Even
the risk of violating parole and being put
back in jail wasn't enough to overcome the craving
Jake, 43, said he tried everything he could think of to stop
drinking. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) didn't
help because hearing everyone at the meeting
talking about drinking just made him want a drink as soon as the meeting was over.
Between 1984 and 1991, he says he spent $30,000 to $40,000 on
treatment programs that didn't work. He
did get sober at one point for three years, but
he says he was miserable, the thought of a drink always in his
mind. Eventually he resumed drinking.
Finally, he saw a newspaper advertisement for a new
alcoholism treatment being tested at the
Health Science Center. Deciding he had nothing to lose, he signed up for the 12-week program at the Treatment
was like the difference between night and day," Jake said. "Within
five days of starting on the medication, the craving was gone. Now I
donít even think of alcohol anymore. My mind is free to do other
is still sober after completing the program about eight months ago, even
though he is no longer taking the medication. "There is so much more in
my life now," he said. "Alcohol is just not a concern at all."
is one of the primary concerns of researchers at the Health Science
Centerís Division of Alcohol and Drug Addiction, headed by Bankole
Johnson, M.D., Ph.D., in the Department of Psychiatry.
interesting that we donít have specific targets for treatment. With
other disorders, we know how to treat them and the problem goes away,"
Dr. Johnson said. Not so with drug and alcohol addictionóyet.
the past decade, researchers have learned that addictive drugs affect
specific centers in the brain, activating chemicals that produce an
over-whelming urge for more.
Johnson and his colleagues are working on developing medications, like the
one Jake took, that will target these chemicals directly and stop the
craving that leads to addiction. They have already made some significant
breakthroughs. Last year they discovered that the drug Isradipine stops
the dangerous narrowing of brain vessels that can cause a stroke when a
person uses cocaine.
a promising treatment for alcoholism is waiting in the wings. Ondansetron,
a compound that blocks serotonin in the brain, is one of the two medications being tested at the Treatment
the five-year clinical study nears its end, Dr. Johnson and his research
partners have learned two things. Alcoholics who began drinking at an
early age are more likely to have abnormalities in serotonin levels.
Secondly, Ondansetron reduces the amount of alcohol they consume as well
as increases the number of those who abstain.
findings will lead to further research into the brain, particularly on the
role serotonin plays in addiction. For instance, Dr. Johnson wants to use
imaging technology to study how drugs and alcohol affect the brains of
people with different biological aspects. In addition, Dr. Johnson plans
to study the genetics of alcoholism to identify those who may be
especially vulnerable to the disease and likely to respond to Ondansetron