The Effect of Aripiprazole on Cue-Induced Brain Activation and Drinking Parameters in Alcoholics

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Because the effects of alcohol and its environmental cues on brain dopamine have been implicated in the maintenance of heavy drinking, drugs that modify dopamine might be useful in reducing drinking or promoting abstinence. The goal of the current study was to use an established brain imaging paradigm to explore the effect of aripiprazole (final dose 15 mg over a 14-day period), a dopamine stabilizer medication, on alcohol cue-induced brain activation and drinking in alcoholics. Non-treatment-seeking alcoholics were randomly assigned aripiprazole (n = 14) or identical placebo (n = 16) and reported their alcohol use while taking study medication for 14 days before an alcohol cue-induced brain functional magnetic resonance imaging study. In a Philips 3.0-T magnetic resonance imaging scanner, subjects were given a sip of alcohol before viewing a randomized presentation alcoholic- and nonalcoholic-beverage photographs while subjects rated their urge to drink. During photograph presentation, changes in regional brain activity were measured, and differences between viewing alcoholic beverage and nonalcoholic beverages were compared within and between groups. Brain activity analysis revealed increased activation for placebo-treated subjects in the right ventral striatum (P < 0.005; threshold 15 voxels), while there was a blunting of activation in this area in the aripiprazole-treated subjects. Aripiprazole-treated subjects, compared with placebo-treated subjects, also had significantly less heavy drinking during the 14-day medication period. The study provides both novel and valuable information regarding the effect of aripiprazole on cue-induced brain activation and voluntary drinking during treatment.

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