Alcoholism Drug a New Aid to Patient Recovery

Article excerpt

The road to recovery from alcoholism is a rough one, and recovering alcoholics often "slip" along the way. Aiding patients in the recovery process is naltrexone, an opioid antagonist previously approved or the treatment of opioid addiction, now available as an adjunct therapy for the treatment of alcoholism.

Just as salt on an ice-covered highway doesn't prevent cars from spinning out of control, naltrexone doesn't keep alcoholics from taking a drink. But when naltrexone is used as part of a comprehensive psychosocial program, researchers such as Charles O'Brien, M.D., Ph.D., report that it has a beneficial effect on patient outcomes.

In his clinical trials, which were sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism, O'Brien and colleagues assessed the effect of placebo or naltrexone in addition to psychosocial interventions. They found that while complete abstinence rates were similar for patients treated with naltrexone or placebo, subsequent drinking episodes for patients who "slipped" with a drink or two were fewer for patients treated with naltrexone. The number of patients who met the criteria for relapse, i.e., those who resumed heavy drinking, while taking naltrexone was about half that of patients treated with placebo.

O'Brien, who is director of the Pennsylvania Veterans Affairs Center for Research on Addictive Disease, said that some naltrexone-treated patients who slipped reported that the usual high they get with alcohol was blunted. But, he added, this was not the case for everyone. "Some patients take naltrexone, and they go ahead and drink and relapse anyway, so it doesn't make a difference. So, clearly, naltrexone isn't for everyone."

O'Brien emphasized that naltrexone shouldn't be used as stand-alone therapy. …