Objective: In several large, well-designed, randomized, double-blind studies, the opiate antagonist naltrexone demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of alcohol dependence. Specifically, when combined with certain psychosocial therapies, naltrexone reduces the number of drinking days, heavy drinking, and time to relapse to alcohol use in alcohol-dependent individuals. Whether this efficacy can be generalized to individuals who have alcohol use disorders and present for treatment at front-line community treatment programs has not been well established.
Methods: A total of 145 patients who presented for treatment at a rural community substance abuse treatment center were randomized to receive naltrexone 50 mg daily plus usual program treatment (n = 54), placebo plus usual treatment (n = 43), or usual treatment alone (n = 48) for 12 week. A total of 133 participants had at least one follow-up visit. Primary outcome measures included percent days drinking, average drinks per drinking day, average drinks per day, heavy drinking days (four or more for women and six or more for men), and time to first heavy drinking day. Secondary measures included changes in serum biological markers (alkaline phosphatase, alanine transaminase, aspartate transaminase, and gamma-glutamyltransferase), craving, and psychosocial functioning.
Results: In the intention-to-treat analysis, there were no between-group differences for any of the primary drinking outcomes at 12 weeks. In post hoc exploratory analyses, the entire sample of participants was divided into two new groups: (1) people who drank during the 2 weeks before the start of medication (entry drinkers) and (2) people who did not drink during this interval (entry abstainers). Entry abstainers were at an advantage at study entry in that they were significantly more likely to have an inpatient hospitalization immediately before entry into outpatient treatment. Mixed-model analysis of variance revealed a main effect for entry group at the 12-week treatment endpoint on the primary outcome measures of percent days drinking, average drinks per drinking day, average drinks per day, heavy drinking days, and time to first heavy drinking day. Participants in any of the randomized groups who were entry abstainers had significantly better improvement on all of the primary outcome measures. The abstainer groups that were randomized to placebo and usual treatment had significantly better outcomes than the entry drinkers in those perspective groups. However, for the naltrexone-treated group, entry drinkers and entry abstainers had similar improvement in drinking-related outcomes.
Conclusions: These data suggest that naltrexone may offer particular benefit to patients who continue to drink during the early stages of the trial as compared with those who have achieved abstinence before treatment entry.