Different subgroups of alcoholics respond differently to serotonin-acting medication

  • Serotonin, a brain chemical, influences mood, emotions, sleep, appetite and temperature regulation.
  • Both short- and long-term alcohol consumption can damage serotonin functioning.
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) help to maintain optimal levels of serotonin.
  • New findings indicate that Type A alcoholics respond better to an SSRI called sertraline (Zoloft) than do Type B alcoholics, both during treatment and for six months following treatment.

Alcoholism typologies are constructed according to a set of one or more variables such as age of onset, family history of alcoholism, and presence/absence of antisocial behavior. According to one such typology by Thomas Babor, Type A alcoholics are considered to be at lower risk/severity, Type B alcoholics at higher risk/severity. In previous research, the authors of a study in the July issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research showed that Type A alcoholics had a better treatment response to a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) called sertraline than did Type B alcoholics. In their latest study, the authors have found that during the six months following treatment, Type A alcoholics maintained their gains, whereas Type B alcoholics who had taken sertraline did not.

"SSRIs are the most widely prescribed class of anti-depressants," said William Dundon, senior research investigator in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and first author of the study. "SSRIs work by affecting the level of serotonin in the brain and elsewhere in the body. In the brain, serotonin is thought to influence mood, emotions, sleep, appetite, and temperature regulation. When the level of serotonin is too low, SSRIs can prevent the re-use (or re-uptake) to help maintain an optimal level of this neurochemical. Since we know from research with animals and humans that the serotonin system is affected b


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