Naltrexone effective for alcohol dependence

January 01, 0001

Naltrexone effective for alcohol dependence

Clinical Question:
How effective are opioid antagonists (naltrexone and nalmefene) in the treatment of alcohol dependence?

Bottom line: Naltrexone reduced the risk of return to heavy drinking (>5 standard drinks per day in men and 4 standard drinks per day in women) to 83% of the placebo risk, decreased drinking days by about 4% and heavy drinking days by about 3%. The NNT* = 9 for return to heavy drinking or, on average, avoiding 1 additional day with heavy drinking per month. Naltrexone also reduced the amount of alcohol consumed and the level of gamma-glutamyl transferase. On days on which alcohol was consumed patients treated with naltrexone managed to refrain from about 1 drink they would have had under placebo. For injectable formulations of naltrexone, which can be advantageous for patients who have problems with taking their medication on schedule, and for the opioid antagonist nalmefene, the database was too sparse to allow final conclusions. * NNT = number needed to treat to benefit 1 individual

Caveat: Even though the sizes of treatment effects might appear moder.ate, these results should be seen against the background of the relapsing nature of alcoholism and the limited therapeutic options currently available for its treatment. Naltrexone did not prevent return to any drinking. The drug does not have serious side effects, but tiredness and gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, stomach pain and loss of appetite are common. In most studies, treatment was provided over a period of 3 months, with follow-up ranging from 3-17 months.

Context: Alcohol affects various brain regions, including the opioid receptor system, which mediates the euphoric and pleasurable effects of alcohol. By blocking alcohol effects at these receptors the opioid antagonists naltrexone and nalmefene can reduce alcohol ‘liking’ and ‘craving’ and thus support alcohol-dependent patients in cutting down their drinking.

Cochrane Systematic Review: Rosner S et al. Opioid antagonists for alcohol dependence. Cochrane Reviews, 2010, Issue 12. Article No. CD001867. DOI:10.1002/14651858. CD001867.pub3. This review contains 50 studies involving 7793 participants

Cochrane PEARLS Practical Evidence About Real Life Situations. No. 316, June 2011.
Written by Brian R McAvoy. Published by the Cochrane Primary Care Group

Category: Z. Social Problems. Keywords: alcohol dependence, naltrexone, opioid antagonists
Synopsis edited by Dr Linda French, Toledo, Ohio. Posted on Global Family Doctor 13 September 2011

Pearls are an independent product of the Cochrane primary care group and are meant for educational use and not to guide clinical care

To obtain Pearls directly, sign up here for the english language version

Pearls are an independent product of the Cochrane primary care group and are meant for educational use and not to guide clinical care.