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Naltrexone and cognitive behavioral therapy for the treatment of outpatient alcoholics: results of a placebo-controlled trial.

OBJECTIVE: The opiate antagonist drug naltrexone has been shown in a few studies with limited sample sizes to be effective when combined with psychosocial therapies for the treatment of alcohol dependence. The goal of this study was to obtain additional information regarding its efficacy in pertinent alcoholic populations and with a well-defined therapy.

METHOD: In this study, 131 recently abstinent alcohol-dependent outpatients were treated with 12 weekly sessions of manual-guided cognitive behavioral therapy and either 50 mg/day of naltrexone (N = 68) or placebo (N = 63) (with riboflavin added as a marker of compliance) in a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. Alcohol consumption, craving, adverse events, and urinary riboflavin levels were assessed weekly. Levels of blood markers of alcohol abuse were also ascertained during the trial.

RESULTS: The study completion, therapy participation, and medication compliance rates in the trial were high, with no differences between treatment groups. Naltrexone-treated subjects drank less, took longer to relapse, and had more time between relapses. They also exhibited more resistance to and control over alcohol-related thoughts and urges, as measured by a subscale of the Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale. Over the study period, 62% of the naltrexone group did not relapse into heavy drinking, in comparison with 40% of the placebo group.

CONCLUSIONS: Motivated individuals with moderate alcohol dependence can be treated with greater effectiveness when naltrexone is used in conjunction with weekly outpatient cognitive behavioral therapy. Naltrexone increases control over alcohol urges and improves cognitive resistance to thoughts about drinking. Thus, the therapeutic effects of cognitive behavioral therapy and naltrexone may be synergistic.

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