The opioid antagonist, naltrexone, is reported, in single centre studies, to improve the clinical outcome of individuals with alcohol dependence participating in outpatient psychosocial programmes. This is the first multicentre controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of naltrexone as adjunctive treatment for alcohol dependence or abuse. Patients who met criteria for alcohol dependence (n = 169) or alcohol abuse (n = 6) were randomly assigned to receive double-blind oral naltrexone 50 mg daily (n = 90) or placebo (n = 85) for 12 weeks as an adjunct to psychosocial treatment. The primary efficacy variable was time to first episode of heavy drinking; secondary efficacy assessments included time to first drink, alcohol consumption, craving, and changes in the serum biological markers gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT), and aspartate and alanine aminotransferases. Compliance was assessed by tablet counts and, in the naltrexone-treated group, by measurement of urinary concentrations of 6-ss-naltrexol. Forty-nine (58%) patients randomized to placebo and 53 (59%) randomized to naltrexone did not complete the study. In intention-to-treat analyses, there was no difference between groups on measures of drinking. The median reduction from baseline of serum GGT (P: < 0.05) and the reductions in alcohol craving (Obsessive and Compulsive Drinking Scale: OCDS) were greater in the naltrexone group (P: < 0.05), from approximately half-way through the study. Of 70 patients (35 placebo; 35 naltrexone) who met an a priori definition of compliance (80% tablet consumption, attendance at all follow-up appointments), those allocated to naltrexone reported consuming half the amount of alcohol (P: < 0.05), had greater median reduction in serum GGT activity (P: < 0.05), and greater reduction in alcohol craving (OCDS total score: P: < 0.05; Obsessive subscale score: P: < 0.05), compared to patients in the placebo group. Use of naltrexone raised no safety concerns. Naltrexone is effective in treating alcohol dependence/abuse in conjunction with psychosocial therapy, in patients who comply with treatment.