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Biochem Pharmacol. 2008 Jan 1;75(1):34-56. Epub 2007 Aug 9.

Update on neuropharmacological treatments for alcoholism: scientific basis and clinical findings.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, University of Virginia, P.O. Box 800623, Charlottesville, VA 22908-0623, USA.


The past decade has seen an expansion of research and knowledge on pharmacotherapy for the treatment of alcohol dependence. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications naltrexone and acamprosate have shown mixed results in clinical trials. Oral naltrexone and naltrexone depot formulations have generally demonstrated efficacy at treating alcohol dependence, but their treatment effect size is small, and more research is needed to compare the effects of different doses on drinking outcome. Acamprosate has demonstrated efficacy for treating alcohol dependence in European trials, but with a small effect size. In U.S. trials, acamprosate has not proved to be efficacious. Research continues to explore which types of alcohol-dependent individual would benefit the most from treatment with naltrexone or acamprosate. The combination of the two medications demonstrated efficacy for treating alcohol dependence in one European study but not in a multi-site U.S. study. Another FDA-approved medication, disulfiram, is an aversive agent that does not diminish craving for alcohol. Disulfiram is most effective when given to those who are highly compliant or who are receiving their medication under supervision. Of the non-approved medications, topiramate is among the most promising, with a medium effect size in clinical trials. Another promising medication, baclofen, has shown efficacy in small trials. Serotonergic agents such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and the serotonin-3 receptor antagonist, ondansetron, appear to be efficacious only among certain genetic subtypes of alcoholic. As neuroscientific research progresses, other promising medications, as well as medication combinations, for treating alcohol dependence continue to be explored.

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