Developing neuroscience-based treatments for alcohol addiction: A matter of choice?

Transl Psychiatry. 2019 Oct 8;9(1):255. doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0591-6.


Excessive alcohol use is the cause of an ongoing public health crisis, and accounts for ~5% of global disease burden. A minority of people with recreational alcohol use develop alcohol addiction (hereafter equated with "alcohol dependence" or simply "alcoholism"), a condition characterized by a systematically biased choice preference for alcohol at the expense of healthy rewards, and continued use despite adverse consequences ("compulsivity"). Alcoholism is arguably the most pressing area of unmet medical needs in psychiatry, with only a small fraction of patients receiving effective, evidence-based treatments. Medications currently approved for the treatment of alcoholism have small effect sizes, and their clinical uptake is negligible. No mechanistically new medications have been approved since 2004, and promising preclinical results have failed to translate into novel treatments. This has contributed to a reemerging debate whether and to what extent alcohol addiction represents a medical condition, or reflects maladaptive choices without an underlying brain pathology. Here, we review this landscape, and discuss the challenges, lessons learned, and opportunities to retool drug development in this important therapeutic area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / therapy*
  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Neurosciences / trends*