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Targeted Use of Naltrexone Without Prior Detoxification in the Treatment of Alcohol Dependence: A Factorial Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial

Heinälä, Pekka MD*†; Alho, Hannu MD, PhD*‡; Kiianmaa, Kalervo PhD*; Lönnqvist, Jouko MD, PhD*; Kuoppasalmi, Kimmo MD, PhD*; Sinclair, John D. PhD*

Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology: June 2001 - Volume 21 - Issue 3 - p 287-292

Several studies have shown the opioid antagonist naltrexone to be effective when combined with psychosocial therapies for the treatment of patients who are dependent on alcohol with fixed medication and time (12 weeks). In this study, 121 nonabstinent outpatients with alcohol dependence (DSM-IV) were treated with sessions of cognitive coping skills (N = 67) or supportive therapy (N = 54) and either naltrexone 50 mg/day (N = 63) or placebo (N = 58) daily for the first 12 weeks and thereafter for 20 weeks only when craving alcohol (i.e., targeted medication) in a prospective one-center, dual, double-blind, randomized clinical trial. The dropout rate for all subjects was 16.5% during the first 12-week period and approximately twice that level by the end of the study. There were no significant group differences in study completion and therapy participation rates. After the continuous medication (12 weeks), the coping/naltrexone group had the best outcome, and coping/placebo had the worst. This difference remained during the targeted medication period (the following 20 weeks). Naltrexone was not better than placebo in the supportive groups, but it had a significant effect in the coping groups: 27% of the coping/naltrexone patients had no relapses to heavy drinking throughout the 32 weeks, compared with only 3% of the coping/placebo patients. The authors’ data confirm the original finding of the efficacy of naltrexone in conjunction with coping skills therapy. In addition, their data show that detoxification is not required and that targeted medication taken only when craving occurs is effective in maintaining the reduction in heavy drinking.

*National Public Health Institute, Department of Mental Health and Alcohol Research, Helsinki, Finland; †Finnish Foundation for Alcohol Studies, ‡Research Unit of Alcohol Diseases, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland

Received June 27, 2000; accepted after revision January 11, 2001.

Address requests for reprints to: H. Alho, MD, PhD, National Public Health Institute, Department of Mental Health and Alcohol Research, P.O. Box 719, 00101 Helsinki, Finland. Address e-mail to:

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.