Magazine article Science News

Opiate Blocker Boosts Alcoholism Treatment

Magazine article Science News

Opiate Blocker Boosts Alcoholism Treatment

Article excerpt

A drug that diminishes the pleasure-inducing effects of the brain's naturally occurring opiates gives added punch to psychological treatments for alcoholism, at least over short periods of time, according to two separate studies.

The drug, naltrexone, may dampen the desire to continue drinking among alcoholics who slip up and consume an alcoholic beverage shortly after entering a treatment program, both research teams assert in the November ARCHIVES OF GENERAL PSYCHIATRY.

Investigators have thus far identified no drug that consistently helps prevent a return to heavy drinking, or relapse, among alcoholics seeking treatment. Disulfiram, a drug that causes unpleasant physical reactions to alcohol, helps only a minority of alcoholics.

"Naltrexone appears to be a safe and effective adjunct to the treatment of alcohol dependence," hold psychiatrist Joseph R. Volpicelli of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and his colleagues.

The team studied 70 men, mostly black and unemployed, who entered an outpatient treatment program following supervised alcohol withdrawal. The men reported an average of 20 years of heavy alcohol use. Each man spent one month attending daily six-hour sessions that included group therapy, individual counseling, exercise, and health education. They then attended group therapy two times a week for the next 11 months.

Half the men received naltrexone pills; the rest received placebo pills for the program's first three months.

At that point, one-quarter of the naltrexone group had returned to heavy drinking or alcohol binges, compared with one-half of the placebo group, the researchers report. Moreover, 19 of 20 placebo-treated men who reported taking a drink of alcohol after entering treatment experienced a relapse, compared with eight of the 16 naltrexone-treated men.

Two men taking naltrexone complained of nausea, and another cited increased pain from arthritis, the scientists note. …

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