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Expert Opin Pharmacother. 2006 Oct;7(15):2169-73.

Which treatment for alcohol dependence: naltrexone, acamprosate and/or behavioural intervention?

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  • 1School of Science, Faculty of Education, Health and Science, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0909, Australia.


Alcoholism is the third leading cause of preventable mortality and morbidity in the US. In the COMBINE (Combined Pharmacotherapies and Behavioural Interventions) study, the co-primary end points were the percentage of days abstinent and the time to first heavy drinking day after 16 weeks, and 1 year. The biggest difference observed in COMBINE was that seen between combined behavioural intervention (CBI; percentage of abstinent days = 66.6%) and CBI and medical management with placebos (79.8%). This illustrated a major effect of the medical management of nine sessions and/or the placebo pills. Acamprosate had no effect alone or in combination with naltrexone. At 16 weeks with medical management, there were 75.1% of the patients who were abstinent for placebos, and this was improved by naltrexone, CBI, and naltrexone with CBI (80.6, 78.2 and 77.1%, respectively). There was a follow up after 1 year, which showed that, with medical management, the amount of those who were abstinent for placebos was 61.4%, and this was improved by naltrexone, CBI, and naltrexone with CBI (66.2, 66.6 and 67.3%, respectively), but this improvement no longer reached statistical significance. After 1 year, there was no difference between groups in the overall frequency of hospitalisation, emergency treatment for alcohol problems, use of medication for drinking or emotional problems and detoxification. Being part of a study for alcohol dependence is known to increase the percentage of abstinent days. In COMBINE, this percentage was high in the group having medical management and placebo pills, and naltrexone or additional behavioural therapy only had modest additional effects.

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