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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2011 Jun;215(4):655-63. doi: 10.1007/s00213-010-2160-9. Epub 2011 Jan 11.

A preliminary investigation of varenicline for heavy drinking smokers.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, CMHC-S200, Yale University School of Medicine, 34 Park Street, New Haven, CT 06519, USA.



Varenicline, an approved smoking cessation pharmacotherapy, also shows promise as a potential treatment for alcohol dependence. However, varenicline has not been tested in heavy drinkers, and it remains to be determined whether varenicline could reduce alcohol craving and consumption in smokers who are trying to quit smoking.


We conducted a preliminary study to examine the effect of varenicline on drinking behavior and the effects of extended varenicline pretreatment on smoking.


Thirty heavy drinking smokers received smoking cessation counseling and were randomly assigned to receive either an extended 4-week pretreatment with varenicline 2 mg daily or the usual 1-week pretreatment. Those in the extended pretreatment group received active medication for 8 weeks (i.e., 4 weeks of active pre-treatment followed by 4 weeks of active treatment), and participants in the usual pretreatment group received active medication after a placebo lead in (i.e., 3 weeks of placebo followed by active medication for 5 weeks).


Participants who received varenicline during the first 3 weeks reported significantly greater reductions in alcohol craving and numerically fewer heavy drinking days compared to those who received placebo, and these differences persisted during the open-label phase. Extended pretreatment was associated with numerically greater reductions in cigarette smoking over the entire study period. There were no differences, however, in smoking abstinence rates following the smoking quit date between the two groups.


Findings from this preliminary study suggest that varenicline may be a promising strategy for concurrently reducing heavy drinking and promoting smoking changes in heavy drinkers.

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