Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are complex and developing effective treatments will require the combination of novel medications and cognitive behavioral therapy approaches. Epidemiological studies have shown there is a high correlation between alcohol consumption and tobacco use, and the prevalence of smoking in alcoholics is as high as 80% compared to about 30% for the general population. Both preclinical and clinical data provide evidence that nicotine administration increases alcohol intake and nonspecific nicotinic receptor antagonists reduce alcohol-mediated behaviors. As nicotine interacts specifically with the neuronal nicotinic acetylcholine receptor (nAChR) system, this suggests that nAChRs play an important role in the behavioral effects of alcohol. In this review, we discuss the importance of nAChRs for the treatment of AUDs and argue that the use of FDA approved nAChR ligands, such as varenicline and mecamylamine, approved as smoking cessation aids may prove to be valuable treatments for AUDs. We also address the importance of combining effective medications with behavioral therapy for the treatment of alcohol dependent individuals.
Keywords: nAChRs, ethanol, nicotine, pharmacotherapy, smoking cessation aids, varenicline, mecamylamine
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