New Drug for Alcohol Dependence Approved for Sale in Japan

By Allison McCabe 01/02/14

Doctors hope that Regtect will help combat Japan's largely untreated alcoholism problem.

Regtect Photo via

Regtect, a new drug to treat alcohol dependence, was recently approved for sale in Japan. Unlike traditional drugs for alcoholism, which cause symptoms like nausea and headaches after consuming alcohol, Regtect works in the brain by suppressing cravings. The approval of the drug is seen as a significant step forward for Japan's largely untreated problem with booze; drinking is strongly entrenched in Japanese culture and of the estimated 800,000 alcoholics, only about 40,000 get treatment each year.

Tomomi Imanari, whose nonprofit organization is involved in the prevention of problems resulting from alcohol and drug abuse, believes the biggest problem facing Japan’s alcoholics is the social stigma that occurs with non-drinking. “Japan is a pro-alcohol society difficult for nondrinkers to get along in,” he said. “However, if people become alcohol-dependent, they are accused of being weak-willed and ostracized from society.”

According to Susumu Higuchi, the director of the National Hospital Kurihama Alcoholism Center, treating alcohol dependence is done in stages. First, the patient must realize that his dependence on alcohol is a disease - something not generally recognized in Japan. Next, the patient is detoxed from alcohol and treated for withdrawal symptoms. Finally, the patient receives individual and group therapy in combination with drug treatment.

With Regtect already available in 24 other countries, Higuchi is hopeful that the drug will help curb Japan’s alcoholism problem. Regtect has been shown in clinical trials to increase levels of abstinence after 24 weeks of use. “From now on, we will accumulate clinical data and establish a more effective and safer dosage,” Higuchi said.

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Allison McCabe is the editor in chief of The Fix. She has written for LA Weekly, Village Voice, Junk: a literary fix, Ramshackle Review, Main Street Journal and others. Follow Allison on Twitter.