Although disulfiram and naltrexone have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of alcoholism, no medications have been approved for individuals with alcohol dependence and comorbid psychiatric disorders. In particular, the effect of these medications on alcohol use outcomes and on specific psychiatric symptoms is still unknown in patients with the most common co-occurring disorder, major depression.
Two hundred fifty-four patients with a major Axis I psychiatric disorder and comorbid alcohol dependence were treated for 12 weeks in an outpatient medication study conducted at 3 Veterans Administration outpatient clinics. Randomization included (1) open randomization to disulfiram or no disulfiram, and (2) double-blind randomization to naltrexone or placebo. This resulted in 4 groups: (1) naltrexone alone, (2) placebo alone, (3) disulfiram and naltrexone, and (4) disulfiram and placebo. Primary outcomes were measures of alcohol use. Secondary outcomes included psychiatric symptoms assessed by the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, alcohol craving, γ-glutamyltransferase levels, and adverse events.
One hundred thirty-nine subjects (54.7%) met the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition criteria for major depression. There was no relationship between the diagnosis of depression and medication treatment on alcohol use outcomes, psychiatric symptoms, or the reporting of side effects for these medications. There was a significant interaction between diagnosis, medication group, and craving, where subjects with depression on disulfram reported lower craving over time than subjects with depression on naltrexone.
The results suggest that disulfiram and naltrexone are safe pharmacotherapeutic agents for dually diagnosed individuals with depression for the treatment of alcohol use disorders.