Public Health Officials Urge Doctors to Consider Medications to Treat Alcohol Addiction

Public health officials are urging doctors to consider prescribing medications to treat alcohol addiction, NPR reports. The drugs can be used alongside or in place of peer-support programs.

“We want people to understand we think AA is wonderful, but there are other options,” said George Koob, Director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. He says there are two drugs on the market for patients with alcohol cravings, naltrexone and acamprosate. “They’re very safe medications, and they’ve shown efficacy,” he said.

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Monthly Injections of Anti-Abuse Drug Help Homeless Alcoholics Reduce Drinking

Monthly injections of the anti-abuse drug naltrexone, coupled with counseling, can help homeless alcoholics reduce their drinking, a new study suggests.

The researchers found 33 percent of study participants had decreases in alcohol craving; 25 percent reduced the amount of alcohol consumed on a typical day; 34 percent reduced the amount they drank on a peak drinking day; 17 percent had a decrease in frequency of alcohol use; and 60 percent had a decrease in problems associated with alcohol use.

Naltrexone “acts as a pacifier to quiet brain receptors that are crying out for more alcohol,” said lead researcher Susan Collins, PhD of the University of Washington. “Abstinence-based alcohol treatment has not been effective for or desirable to many homeless people with alcohol dependence,” she added.

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Medications to Help People Stop Drinking Rarely Prescribed

A new study finds two medications that can help people quit drinking are rarely used. The drugs, naltrexone and acamprosate, could be helping many thousands of people, the researchers say.

The drugs reduce alcohol cravings. They have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating alcoholism for more than a decade, The New York Times reports. Many doctors are not aware of the drugs’ usefulness, or question their effectiveness, the article notes.

The researchers reviewed data on about 23,000 people in 122 studies. They concluded that in order to prevent one person from returning to drinking, the number needed to take acamprosate was 12, and the number needed to take naltrexone was 20. In contrast, large studies of widely-used drugs such as cholesterol-lowering statins have found that 25 to more than 100 people need treatment to prevent one heart event.

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