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Liver Transpl. 2011 May;17(5):539-47. doi: 10.1002/lt.22259.

A randomized, controlled study of treatment for alcohol dependence in patients awaiting liver transplantation.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, USA.


Alcohol is the second most common cause of cirrhosis necessitating liver transplantation in the United States, yet rates of posttransplant drinking approach 50% and no controlled clinical trials of alcoholism treatment exist in this population. Eligible patients were randomly assigned to receive Motivational Enhancement Therapy (MET), or referral to local treatment sources ("treatment as usual" [TAU]). Addictive behavior, mood states, and general health were compared. Candor concerning alcohol use was encouraged by keeping drinking questionnaires in confidence, except in medical emergencies. Ninety-one subjects were studied; 46 received MET, 45 received TAU, 29 proceeded to transplantation (MET, n = 13; TAU, n = 16). A total of 69 subjects completed 24 weeks of observation, and 25 subjects were assessed at 96 weeks. No difference in study attendance was observed, but significantly more MET subjects attended 1 or more treatment sessions. Twenty-three subjects (25% of sample) drank after randomization but before transplant. Excluding an extreme outlier, MET drinkers had significantly fewer drinks per drinking days than TAU drinkers. Neither treatment plan resulted in significant variances in measures of psychosocial health. In conclusion, although MET afforded no significant benefit over TAU for mood or general health outcomes, this study provides some degree of support for MET to limit the quantity and frequency of pretransplant alcohol consumption among liver transplant candidates with alcohol dependence. However, because of the limited number of study subjects, these data must be interpreted cautiously. Further research to validate our findings or to identify better methods to identify and intervene with patients at risk of pretransplant and posttransplant drinking should continue.

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