The "Eight-Week Herbal Cure" for Alcoholism

By Dirk Hanson 05/17/12

A company marketing "Sobrexa" makes ridiculous-sounding claims. But scientists say the active ingredient, a derivative of the kudzu vine, has real potential.

Was the answer as simple as that? Photo via

An 84% success rate? Eight weeks of liquid herbal solutions and you’re done? Most of us know that alcohol treatment come-ons like this are nonsense—the one-year abstinence rate of the best known programs never approaches 84%, and no responsible recovery center promises to “cure” you of alcoholism in eight weeks. To complicate matters, "Last Call," the company in question, is basing this astounding claim on the use of a substance called daidzin, an organic ingredient of the kudzu vine: “The Last Call Program is an 8-week at-home, do-it-yourself program that has been proven to help you reduce your desire to over-drink alcohol with ease—no willpower needed.”

It doesn’t get any better than that, now, does it? But before you call BS, consider that kudzu, the organic treatment in question, is being studied intensely at Harvard Medical School and its affiliate, McLean Hospital, for its anti-alcohol properties. And while Last Call has clearly jumped the gun, the research behind their overblown claims is quite compelling. Commenting on a study just published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, its lead author Dr. David Penetar of McLean Hospital said that his group had discovered “further evidence that components found in kudzu root can reduce alcohol consumption and do so without adverse side effects.” Subjects in the study were installed in an “apartment” and allowed to drink as much beer as they wanted. But those taking puerarin—a major ingredient in kudzu root—drank significantly fewer beers. While Penetar didn't say that puerarin would stop people from drinking, he stated that “their rate of consumption decreased… it appears to slow the pace and the overall amount consumed.”

Last Call’s kudzu concoction is called Sobrexa, and while scientists still aren’t sure how kudzu works, investigators believe it may prevent alcohol-induced dopamine surges in the brain’s pleasure center. So, will Sobrexa cure your drinking in two months? Probably not. But keep your eye on more sober pronouncements based on continuing Kudzu research. This is one herbal treatment that may have legs.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]