New Drug Will Stop Alcohol From Getting People Drunk?

Researchers have developed FGF21 which helps humans combat some effects of alcohol, like raising alertness levels in the brain

By Jessica Scott | Published


Have you ever wished that there was an easier way to sober up after a night filled with alcohol and partying? Well, you might just be in luck. According to ScienceAlert, a new treatment that uses a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21 (FGF21) has been shown to rapidly reduce the effects of alcohol poisoning and drunkenness in mice.

The FGF21 does not actually change the way that alcohol is broken down or processed by the body, but it does raise alertness levels in the brain, which combats things like lack of coordination and drowsiness – the main symptoms of being drunk. 

FGF21 is produced in the liver of mice, but it is also produced in human livers as well. This means that this treatment could potentially also be used to help people who have taken their drinking to the extreme and/or are suffering from alcohol poisoning. 

To be clear, though, this treatment doesn’t erase alcohol from your system. Instead, it helps people who have imbibed way too much alcohol to sober up to the point that they can be assisted by a medical professional. 

According to Steven Kliewer, a molecular biologist from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, increasing the amount of FGF21 in the body to a higher level than what is already present can help a person get less drunk much faster than they could naturally. “By increasing FGF21 concentrations even higher by injection, we can dramatically accelerate recovery from intoxication,” he says. “FGF21 does this by activating a very specific part of the brain that controls alertness.”

In addition to sobering someone up faster, FGF21 also pushes the body to “heal thyself.” It provides a stimulus that makes a person want to drink more water and it suppresses the urge to keep drinking ethanol, the ingredient in alcohol that makes it intoxicating.

FGF21 affects a region in the brain called the locus coeruleus (try saying that five times fast!), which produces noradrenaline, a neurotransmitter. That neurotransmitter regulates alertness in both mice and humans and also regulates sleep arousal. 

With this in mind, “We are now exploring in greater depth the neuronal pathways by which FGF21 exerts its sobering effect,” says David Mangelsdorf, a pharmacologist who also works at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

While FGF21 might end up being a lifesaver for those with alcohol poisoning, it does not appear to have the same effect on those who have taken other drugs like pentobarbital, ketamine, or diazepam. This tells scientists that this hormone must be specifically working against ethanol, which is not present in these other drugs.

But why is FGF21 present in the bodies of mice in the first place? Researchers posit that the hormone has evolved as a way to keep them and other animals from consuming too much alcohol. It is a way to protect their liver, which the brain and body know is extremely important. Mice don’t normally go out on drinking binges like some humans do. But they do have a tendency to eat a lot of sugar if they can find it, which can also contain ethanol. So, such a hormone is necessary to help keep them from OD-ing on sugar.

For now, this study on FGF21 has just been carried out on mice, but the researchers in charge of the project are hopeful that it could one day translate to the treatment of acute alcohol poisoning in humans as well.