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Relapse no More?

Dateline: 09/02/99

What is the best way to treat those suffering from alcoholism? Recent research sheds light on a new effective treatment. Nalmefene, an opioid antagonist, has been shown to be very effective in preventing relapses to heavy drinking in alcoholics.

Nalmefene is a so called "universal antagonist" as it works on all opioid receptors. In the study, the participants received either a 20 mg dose of nalmefene, an 80 mg dose of nalmefene, or a placebo. The study was also a double blind study.

The researchers found that those who had the nalmefene doses were approximately 2.5 times less likely to have a relapse with heavy drinking as compared to those who received the placebo. The researchers noted that there were no significant differences in those who had the 20 mg dosage of nalmefene and those who received the 80 mg dosage.

In addition to the nalmefene or placebo, the patients received traditional cognitive behavioral therapy designed to help them cope with their drinking.

Approximately one third of the patients who received nalmefene had at least one relapse during the study. Additionally, a significant percentage of patients on nalmefene (when compared to those on placebos) avoided having any relapse. Of the patients who had at least one relapse, patients on nalmefene had fewer other drinking binges.

The researchers note that the consumption of alcohol is mediated by both nonopioid and opioid mechanisms in the body so an opioid antagonist alone could not prevent all relapses in every alcoholic.

Researchers are optimistic that using pharmacologic agents in conjunction with traditional behavioral interventions will prove to be highly successful. They hope that these combinations will allow for better treatments than traditional methods alone. Most traditional treatments have a relapse rate of 50% within the first few months.

They also note that scientific research advancements concerning how alcohol and the brain interact will prove invaluable to these kind of projects. Additional information about the mechanisms involved will assist scientists in producing other effective agents.

While nalmefene is not yet commercially available in oral form, several pharmaceutical companies may be developing a commercial drug.

What do you think? What is your opinion about the best way to treat alcoholism? Do you think that traditional intervention methods have been successful? Come on over to the Biology Forum to share your thoughts, feelings, and opinions.

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