The findings, along with the recent FDA approval of a similar drug called acamprosate, open the door to new treatment options for drinkers who aren't yet ready to face total abstinence.
Naltrexone, which is not addictive, "should be accepted as a short-term treatment for alcoholism," say authors Dr. Manit Srisurapanont and Dr. Ngamwong Jarusuraisin of Thailand's Chiang Mai University. Almost all of the studies tested naltrexone, or NTX, in combination with psychosocial treatments such as counseling or self-help groups, and the authors recommend using this approach in everyday practice.
The review's conclusions are based on "high-quality evidence" that naltrexone reduces by 36 percent the risk of an alcoholic relapsing to heavy drinking in the first three months of recovery. "Short-term treatment of NTX for alcoholism gives a meaningful benefit in preventing a relapse," the review said, citing an 18 percent lower likelihood that patients will abandon their treatment program.
The review appears in the most recent issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.
Dr. Joseph Volpicelli, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, has been conducting research on naltrexone use for alcohol dependence since the early 1980s. Naltrexone blocks the brain's receptors for natural painkillers, known as opioids, which normally create the feeling of wellbeing associated with drinking.
He explains that the benefits of naltrexone lie not so much in preventing a patient from having one
Contact: Manit Srisurapanont
Center for the Advancement of Health