Researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are using a replica of a fully stocked bar to test an experimental treatment for alcohol use disorders, ABC News reports.
"The goal is to create almost a real-world environment, but to control it very strictly," said lead researcher Dr. Lorenzo Leggio.
Sitting in the fake bar, which is dimly lit, should cue participants' brains to crave alcohol. Researchers are studying whether an experimental drug will counter their urge to drink.
Leggio is testing how a hormone called ghrelin, which increases a person's appetite for food, also affects the desire to drink, and whether blocking ghrelin can reduce the urge for alcohol.
The bottles in the fake bar are filled with colored water. Real alcohol is locked away. The researchers use it to add the temptation of smell, and to test the safety of mixing the ghrelin-blocking drug with alcohol. The researchers measure cravings by hooking volunteers up to a blood pressure monitor as they smell their favorite drink. Initial safety results are expected this spring, the article notes.
The drug was originally developed by Pfizer for diabetes but never sold.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved three drugs to treat alcohol abuse: naltrexone, acamprosate and Antabuse. No one drug helps all people with alcohol use disorders, notes Dr. George Koob, Director of the NIH's National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Alcoholics come in many forms," he said. "Our hope is that down the line, we might be able to do a simple blood test that tells if you will be a naltrexone person, an acamprosate person, a ghrelin person," he added.
Other drugs being studied to treat alcohol use disorders include the epilepsy drugs gabapentin and topiramate and the anti-smoking drug Chantix.