Medication as a Part of Treatment Can Help Overcome Alcohol Addiction and Prevent Relapse

New research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill suggests that alcohol addiction treatment could be improved by the addition of certain medications. Drugs that reduce alcohol cravings have been available for many years, but the evidence of their usefulness has been in question. The study, published in the May 14, 2014 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, attempts to provide answers.

Excess of Evidence Too Much to Process

The chief hindrance to use of these drugs hasn’t been a lack of research, but, instead the large amount of research information to be sifted through that deals with the efficacy of using the medications. The sheer volume of data, many times making contradictory claims, has left most mental health care providers wondering if the drugs are truly helpful.

Daniel Jonas, MD, MPH, is a professor in the University’s department of medicine and also works at its Center for Health Services Research. Dr. Jonas worked with a team of researchers to sort through what the evidence actually says about drugs that reduce alcohol cravings. The team, led by Jonas, reviewed 122 published trials (randomized and controlled) along with a single cohort study. Each trial was scored based on the strength of its evidence related to how a specific medication affected recovery from alcohol use.

Two Drugs Most Beneficial in Fighting Addiction

Two drugs, naltrexone and acamprosate, showed strong evidence of success. The medications were effective in helping to avert relapses as well as in reducing other negative outcomes connected to drinking. Two other drugs, topiramate and nalmefene, showed moderate success in helping outcomes although they aren’t designed to be used as treatment for alcohol use disorders. When a medication designed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration for one condition is used to treat another, it’s called “off-label” use of the drug.

Medication as One Part of Treatment

People can’t expect to simply take medication to overcome a long-formed alcohol addiction. However, the evidence from multiple studies points to the usefulness of certain medications in enhancing standard addiction therapy.

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