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Skin Disease Drug can Help Control Excessive Drinking


Researchers found that apremilast could reduce alcohol intake by more than half per day, on average.



A new study from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) shows that anti-inflammatory drug, apremilast (Otezla) may also help treat alcohol use disorders.1 Patients who took the medication, typically used to treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, reduced drinking by more than half, from 5 drinks a day to 2, according to the study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

Research began in 2015 when investigators searched a genetic database to try to identify compounds that may counteract the expression of genes involved in heavy alcohol use and found apremilast to be a strong candidate. They tested the drug in mice and discovered that the drug reduced excessive alcohol intake in regard to binge drinking, compulsive and stress, and non-stress induced drinking. They then conducted a double-blind, placebo-controlled study on 51 people with alcohol use disorder over 11 days of treatment. The participants ranged from 18 to 65 years and met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) criteria for alcohol use disorder of moderate or greater severity (AUD-MS); drinking≥ 21 standard drinks per week if male, ≥ 14 if female, with at least one heavy drinking day (≥ 5 males, ≥ 4 females) per week.

The oral apremilast was found to trigger an increase in activity in the nucleus accumbens, which is the brain region that controls alcohol intake. The clinical study involved people who were not actively seeking any form of treatment for their alcoholism, and study authors predict apremilast may be even more effective among those who are motivated to reduce their alcohol consumption.

Co-senior author Angela Ozburn, PhD, said the study is incredibly promising for the treatment of addiction, in general. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 95,000 people in the US die every year from alcohol-related illnesses. 2

Study authors noted that it is imperative for more clinical trials to be done on apremilast’s abilities to curb drinking, as it showed good tolerability on participants with little to no adverse effects.


1. Grigsby, K.B., Ozburn, A, et al. (2023) Pre-clinical and clinical evidence for suppression of alcohol intake by apremilast. Journal of Clinical Investigation. doi.org/10.1172/JCI159103.

 2. Alcohol Facts and Statistics. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/alcohol-facts-and-statistics. Published March 2022. Accessed February 24, 2023.

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