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Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1992 Jun;51(6):729-39.

Citalopram decreases desirability, liking, and consumption of alcohol in alcohol-dependent drinkers.

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  • 1Clinical Pharmacology Program and Sociobehavioral Research, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


In previous studies serotonin uptake inhibitors such as citalopram decreased alcohol consumption in alcoholics. The mechanism of the effect is not fully understood. This study tested the hypothesis that it is mediated by changes in desire to drink and alcohol effects. After a 1-week baseline period, subjects (13 men and three women; aged 26 to 69 years; healthy, nondepressed, alcohol-dependent drinkers [mean, 6.6 drinks per day]) were randomized in a double-blind fashion to receive 40 mg/day citalopram and placebo for 1 week each, separated by a 1-week washout period. Daily standard alcoholic drinks (13.6 gm ethanol), nonalcoholic drinks, and tobacco use were recorded; evening urine samples were taken; and interest, desire, craving, and liking for alcohol were rated. Medical status, depression, and anxiety were assessed weekly, but no other treatment or advice was given. Daily alcoholic drinks significantly decreased during citalopram treatment (mean +/- SEM = 4.6 +/- 0.6) compared with placebo (5.7 +/- 0.8; p = 0.01), and the average decrease was 17.5%. Percentage of days abstinent increased during citalopram administration (27.7% +/- 5.7%) compared with placebo (15.5% +/- 3.7%; p less than 0.01). Citalopram decreased interest, desire, craving, and liking for alcohol (all p less than 0.05). There was clear internal validation of these measures in that variations in each correlated with alcohol consumption (all r greater than 0.5, p less than 0.05). Nonalcoholic drinks, self-reports of cigarettes smoked (daily smokers), and body weight did not change significantly. In experimental bar sessions, after the citalopram and placebo periods, subjects were required to consume as many of 18 minidrinks as possible (equivalent to six standard drinks) at 5-minute intervals. Subjects rated their desire for alcohol, intoxication, and mood. Citalopram had no significant effects on the desirability of alcohol or subjective feelings of intoxication. The findings indicate that serotonin uptake inhibitors may act by decreasing the urge to drink and the reinforcing effects of alcohol. Also, a naturalistic outpatient trial is a sensitive, simple, and economic procedure for detecting these drug effects.

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