Experimental ‘Alcoholism Vaccine’ Gives Drinkers an Instant Hangover

Flickr user tranchis

Researchers from the University of Chile are at work on an innovative new vaccine that they hope will fight alcoholism, a prevalent problem in their country. People who have been given the vaccine will experience an immediate hangover from even a drop of alcohol, making drinking such an unpleasant experience that they’ll be forced to abstain.

The vaccine “works by sending a biochemical message to the liver telling it not to express genes that metabolise alcohol,” explains the Daily Mail. “Normally, the liver turns alcohol into the hangover-causing compound called acetaldehyde which is then broken down by a metabolising enzyme.”

The scientists plan to start trials on mice next month, and human subjects later in the year. Dr. Juan Ansejo told The Santiago Times that he and his colleagues were first inspired by a genetic mutation that’s fairly common in Eastern populations that naturally lowers tolerance to alcohol:

“People who are Japanese, Chinese or Korean and have this mutation – let’s say 15 to 20 percent of the population – they don’t touch alcohol, and that’s because they feel bad with the vomit and the nausea,” Asenjo said.

This isn’t the first time a drug has been used to discourage alcohol use by prompting hangover symptoms; Disulfiram is a pill that works the same way. The obvious problem with having the medicine in a pill format is that one could simply stop taking the pills when temptation won out.

The key to this new vaccine in Chile is that it’s administered by a shot (not that kind of shot, the needle kind), and it remains in the body for about six months to a year, with no way to reverse its effects during that time.

Of course, what this potential miracle drug doesn’t treat—and no drug alone ever could—are the underlying causes of the disease, both genetic and psychological. What would someone do after the vaccine eventually wears off? Get another, and then another? Does the desire to avoid an instant hangover count as recovery?

More from Smithsonian.com:

Tipsy Gene Prevents Against Alcoholism
The Alcoholics of the Animal World
The Truth Behind Beer Goggles

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.