Study to look at new approach to alcoholism, other trauma affecting blacks


More than six million African-Americans drink heavily, and many black Baltimore residents struggle with the problem and are unable to control their drinking, according to new research. University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers say they have discovered that the problem is often related to psychological trauma.

The latest study by those researchers examines whether a new drug can help alleviate the related problems of alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

To conduct the study, the school’s researchers are using the medication, pregabalin, which they say has already been approved for use in epilepsy and some other kinds of pain.

However, some scientists believe pregabalin could be useful in addiction and trauma.

“Nearly 60 percent of individuals with PTSD have a comorbid alcohol use disorder. This comorbidity [simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases or conditions in a patient] is associated with more severe PTSD symptoms, higher rates of psychosocial and medical problems, higher relapse rates, and poorer treatment outcome,” said Melanie Bennett, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

“There is a great need for treatments that are effective for both disorders,” Bennett said.

Communities of color tend to experience greater burden of mental and substance use disorders often due to poorer access to care; inappropriate care; and higher social, environmental, and economic risk factors, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Drinking tends to increase during the holiday season with statistics from several organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealing that binge drinking and drunk driving increase “astronomically” from Thanksgiving eve through New Year’s.

While the University of Maryland School of Medicine study has already began, researchers said they plan to start working with more patients from Baltimore City and the surrounding area in the next few months.

The goal is to try and attack what the researchers said is a pressing problem in and around Charm City in what’s being billed as an innovative attempt to solve the issues.

“We are studying African-Americans in order to have a diverse sample in order to test this medication,” Bennett said.

Those who participate in the study are selected randomly and they’re assigned to receive the drug or a placebo. The drug is then taken for 13 weeks.

“We have scientific reasons for believing this drug will work,” Bennett said. “The drug has shown promise in reducing drinking and in reducing the symptoms of PTSD separately in small studies.”

It also positively affects neurotransmitter pathways that are common to both disorders, which has led researchers to hypothesize that it will be effective for individuals with both diagnoses, according to Bennett.

Overall, the goal of the study is to determine whether or not this drug will be effective in this particular group, she said. Currently, there are no alternate plans or drugs in the study.

“There are, however, other drugs that are approved for the treatment of alcohol use disorders and two cognitive behavioral therapies that are evidence-based for PTSD,” she said.

Researchers are still seeking participants for the study. For more information or to sign up for the study, call 667-214-2111.