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Prescribed Meds Still Best Treatment for Alcoholism
Date:6/20/2008

Study comparing drug, behavioral therapies found medications cut withdrawal, urge to drink

FRIDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- Sticking to a regimen of prescribed medications is the most effective way to reduce withdrawal symptoms and urges to drink alcohol in those being treated for alcohol dependence, according to a U.S. study.

The study compared two medications (naltrexone and acamprosate) used in combination with two behavioral treatments -- low-intensity medical management (MM) and moderately intensive combined behavioral intervention (CBI).

The researchers analyzed data from 846 males and 380 females who took part in the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's Combine study, a large-scale, multi-site, combined medication and behavioral treatment study.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of eight different combination treatments involving naltrexone, acamprosate, a placebo, MM, and CBI. After 16 weeks of treatment, the patients' primary outcomes -- including percent days abstinent and time to first heavy drinking -- were compared.

"First, high medication adherents fared better than low medication adherents across all combinations of behavioral and pharmacological treatment conditions," Allen Zweben, associate dean for academic affairs and research in Columbia University's school of social work, said in a prepared statement.

"Second, CBI -- a specialty alcohol treatment -- surprisingly had a beneficial impact on nonadherents receiving the placebo. This raises the issue of whether or not CBI may serve as a cushion or have a protective function for these patients," said Zweben, the corresponding author for the study.

"Conversely, CBI did not provide similar benefits for naltrexone-treated patients; their relapse rates appeared to be more a function of inadequate exposure to naltrexone and less influenced by CBI," he added.

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