Anti-Alcoholism Drugs Exist, but We're Not Using Them

Many doctors don't know about them: experts

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted May 14, 2014 10:04 AM CDT

(Newser) – Two medications could offer an effective weapon against alcoholism, and they've been approved for years. But many doctors aren't familiar with naltrexone and acamprosate, which could benefit tens of thousands of alcoholics, a study finds. The drugs are "not blockbuster. They’re not going to work for everybody. But they can make a difference for a lot of people," the lead author of the study tells the New York Times. Only a third of alcoholics are treated for the condition, and the researchers find that only a third of those treated have medications prescribed, CNN notes.

Researchers reviewed data on 23,000 subjects dating back decades. They examined the drugs' "number needed to treat"—in other words, the number of people who'd have to be on the drug in order to benefit one patient, in this case by preventing future drinking. Among popular medications like statins, which fight cholesterol, between 25 and 100 people must be taking the drugs to avoid one cardiovascular event. Naltrexone's number needed to treat is 20, while acamprosate's is just 12. But "many primary care physicians just don’t know about this," says an expert.

A pair of drugs could offer help to alcoholics, yet they're rarely used.
A pair of drugs could offer help to alcoholics, yet they're rarely used.   (Shutterstock)
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