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The role of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid in the treatment of alcoholism: from animal to clinical studies.

F Poldrugo, G Addolorato
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/34.1.15 15-24 First published online: 1 January 1999


Since its discovery nearly 40 years ago, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB) has attracted several waves of scientific interest due to new developments in the knowledge of its mechanisms of action and ideas for its potential use in clinical practice. Its effects have been claimed to treat different psychiatric conditions, but over time its use has become limited to a few specific situations (e.g. sedating patients in non-painful surgical procedures and narcolepsy). New interest in the drug derives from its potential use in the treatment of alcoholism. Recent studies demonstrated a marked effect of the substance in suppressing ethanol (ETOH) withdrawal symptoms and in reducing craving for alcohol, compared to other available drugs. However, GHB has to be given under very careful supervision because of its side-effects, including the risk of abuse and dependence and possible interference with the metabolic pathways of endogenous GHB and ETOH. This short review discusses these and related issues and we hope that it will stimulate further interest in GHB.