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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 May 2006, 23:25 GMT 00:25 UK
Alcoholism hope over 'drug pill'
Pint of lager
About 1m in the UK are dependent on alcohol
A medicine which is used in the UK to treat drug addiction can also help combat alcoholism, a study suggests.

The US National Institutes of Health looked at a range of therapies available in a study of 1,383 people.

Naltrexone, which blocks craving, and intensive counselling had the best results, the Journal of the American Medical Association reported.

Both were used alongside regular medical check-ups. Only 10% of people dependent on alcohol seek treatment.

But the US researchers believe the latest study shows that therapy can be easily accessed in community settings rather than just in specialist clinics and hospitals.

And this should make effective treatment available to a much larger number of people who need it
Professor Richard Longabaugh, lead researcher

They tested two drugs - naltrexone and acamprosate, which are both aimed at easing cravings.

They also looked at the effectiveness of 'medical management' - advice sessions with GP or nurses about how to treat and manage alcohol addiction and intensive counselling, known as combined behavioural intervention (CBI) which involves self-help, motivational and talking therapies.

They analysed the different therapies in various combinations throughout the 16-week trial on people with drinking problems.

The study found medical management in combination with either naltrexone or CBI had the best results.

For both combinations, the number of alcohol-free days more than tripled from 25% to 80%, compared to an average of 73%.

Medical management and naltrexone, in particular, were found to be effective a year after treatment had finished with two-thirds of days being spent alcohol-free compared to between a third to a half for the other combinations.


Lead researcher Professor Richard Longabaugh said the findings should make it easier for people to seek help for alcohol problems.

"The finding that alcohol can be treated in a primary care setting is good news. This makes confronting this disease a lot more simple.

"And this should make effective treatment available to a much larger number of people who need it."

In the UK, naltrexone is only licensed to treat drug addiction. It works by reducing the craving and neutralising the hit.

Professor Colin Drummond, a consultant psychiatrist who treats people with alcohol problems at St George's Hospital in south London, said: "There has been suggestions it could help treat alcohol dependency, it may well be worth a look. This is very interesting."

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