Helping alcoholics recover from their addiction is a noble cause. However, many methods have only limited efficacy. Researchers have been investigating the safety and efficacy of naltrexone along with other treatment methods. Eight, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials have shown that naltrexone does help with supportive therapy for abstinence and for supportive therapy that teaches coping skills for dealing with relapses. The studies that looked at abstinence found no significant benefit from naltrexone. However, the studies that taught coping skills for relapses did show significant benefits. The hypothesis is that the primary mechanism involved is extinction because extinction weakens responses that are made while reinforcement is blocked.
Based on these results, scientists suggest that naltrexone should be administered to patients who were still currently drinking, and the instructions should be to take naltrexone only when drinking was anticipated. The treatment should continue indefinitely. Additional studies have shown that naltrexone used in this way is safe and effective.
Let’s take a deeper look at this promising treatment for alcohol addiction.
How does naltrexone help with alcohol addiction?
Pre-clinical studies have shown that naltrexone and other antagonists decreased the animals’ alcohol drinking and operant responses for it.
In 1990, a double-blind, placebo-controlled (DBPC) trial by Volpicelli et al showed clinically that naltrexone reduced alcohol drinking and relapses. Another study in the same year by O’Malley et al replicated those findings. A meta-analysis showed the naltrexone plus teaching coping skills produced better results than all other treatments.
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