Want to Drink Less at Night? This Drug Could Help

It’s not just you: Ice-cold beer really does taste better in the evening than it does in the morning. That’s because the brain’s “rewards” system is connected to the body clock, and cravings for pleasurable things are often stronger at night. New research may lead to a way to break that connection: A drug that influences the immune system has been shown to disrupt evening desires for alcohol in mice, and while more testing is needed, the results suggest the drug could help to control human urges to drink during the time when temptation is strongest.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia used the drug, Naltrexone, to significantly decrease lab rats’ desire to drink alcohol in the evening. The drug works by targeting a receptor in the immune system, called Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4), which in turn blocks a small part of the brain’s immune system and influences nighttime alcohol cravings. If the same results can be repeated in humans, it could prove to be a new avenue to treating alcohol abuse.

Related: College students may suffer permanent brain damage from binge drinking

“Our study is part of an emerging field which highlights the importance of the brain’s immune system in the desire to drink alcohol,” a senior author of the study, Mark Hutchinson, said in a recent statement. “Given the drinking culture that exists in many nations around the world, including Australia, with associated addiction to alcohol and related health and societal issues, we hope our findings will lead to further studies.”

09_14_Wine Want to hold off on the champagne? A drug could target alcohol cravings at the time of day they hit hardest. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

Alcohol abuse is an extensive global problem, and new research suggests that as many 30 million Americans, or one in eight U.S. adults, are affected. What’s more, alcohol abuse is also rising in certain demographics, such as among women and the elderly.

Related: Can you drink while pregnant? Even light drinking can cause problems

We are only just starting to understand the link between our body clock, also known as the circadian rhythm, and our cravings for pleasurable things, such as alcohol. This connection may have something to do with dopamine, a hormone often associated with pleasure—and one that has a crucial role in some circadian-like activities.

Related: 30 percent of Americans have had an alcohol-use disorder

Naltrexone is already approved for use in treating some opiate and alcohol addiction, and it helps individuals with a history of abuse avoid relapse. However, the new research may suggest that we are only beginning to understand exactly how the drug works, and it may perhaps have even more uses. Further understanding this link between the internal body clock and Naltrexone could help us develop more effective alcohol abuse therapies, or simply help casual drinkers who may want to cut back on their weekly intake.