What Is the Relationship between Varenicline and Alcohol?

Maggie J. Hall
Maggie J. Hall

Varenicline and alcohol have multiple relationships. Some research indicates that using varenicline tartrate reduces the desire for alcohol consumption. Physicians normally prescribe the medication to patients who want to quit smoking, however. The formulation has the potential to cause harmful psychological side effects, which some believe may be exacerbated when combined with alcohol consumption. The original labeling and instructions that accompany the medication do not advise against combining of varenicline and alcohol, however.

A controlled laboratory study evaluated the possible effects of varenicline and alcohol on volunteer test subjects who consumed alcoholic beverages and smoked cigarettes daily. Researchers provided half the group with varenicline doses, similar to smoking cessation dosages, while the other half received a placebo. Scientists provided participants with an initial alcoholic beverage and the opportunity to smoke.

Through the course of the study, individuals taking varenicline required fewer alcoholic beverages and cigarettes compared to the control group that received the placebo. Researchers concluded that the medication exhibits receptor binding abilities related to alcohol consumption. Similar experiments on laboratory animals produced similar results.

Health care providers commonly prescribe varenicline as part of a smoking cessation program. The medication binds to nicotine receptors in the brain, blocking nicotine access to the receptor sites and preventing chemical signals from traveling to the dopamine system and triggering the reaction that produces cravings and smoking satisfaction. Patients typically begin treatment one week before a preset quitting date and continue on a titrated varenicline dose for up to 12 weeks. Some individuals require an additional 12-week course of treatment.

Patients typically begin treatment by taking 0.5 milligrams of varenicline daily for three days. The next three days, patients take 0.5 milligrams of the medication twice daily. Patients continue treatment by taking one milligram of varenicline twice a day for a prescribed length of time.

Common side effects of varenicline include nausea, dizziness, and drowsiness. Individuals should not operate machinery or vehicles until understanding how the drug can affect them. Patients may also be at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease according to statistics. The risks of varenicline include depression, hostile behavior, and suicidal tendencies. Patients might also experience sleep disturbances, hallucinations, and paranoia.

Physicians do not recommend this medication for patients who have been diagnosed with depression or other psychological behavioral disorders. Warning labels advise patients to discontinue treatment if they experience serious psychological effects. Some believe that using the combination of varenicline and alcohol may create a recipe for disaster. While varenicline alone has the potential to create serious behavioral changes, patients and those around them have reported that acts of suicide or violence have occurred when taking the medication and consuming alcohol.

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