A bottle of pills to kick the bottle

Thu Feb 25, 2010 1:17pm EST
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By Kate Kelland, Health and Science Correspondent

LONDON (Reuters) - Does this sound like anyone you know? Darryl is 35, has a steady job, a stable home and good marriage, enjoys a few beers in front of the TV most nights -- doesn't have what most people would call a drink problem.

In the United States alone there are probably around 36 million Darryls, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which created the character, played by an actor on its website to help train doctors.

He doesn't exercise as much as maybe he should so he's a little overweight. At an average of four drinks a day, he is no alcoholic: but some experts now see him as a high-risk drinker and say he could succumb to "alcohol use disorder."

Millions more people across the developed world -- who drink a few glasses of wine every night after work or look forward to three nights of repeated shots with chasers on the weekends -- may today be adding up to a major health and social problem.

Could there be a pill to help them?

A reassessment of the nature of addiction, particularly to alcohol, is starting to pique Big Pharma's interest. For years the industry has been lukewarm, assuming either that finding a cure for alcoholism is impossible, or else that the target market -- homeless drop-outs, jobless bums and convicted drink drivers -- would not make for great returns.

Now changing western attitudes and cheap supermarket-supplied alcohol have made excessive drinking normal, including among the middle classes. Some experts predict the arrival soon of a new generation of drugs to help everyday drinkers.

"The potential market for medications that can be prescribed for these functional alcoholics is huge," said Mark Willenbring, an addiction expert and psychiatrist in the United States.   Continued...

<p>A bartender prepares a beer in a bar in central Sydney in this May 11, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Daniel Munoz</p>