Acamprosate supports abstinence, naltrexone prevents excessive drinking: evidence from a meta-analysis with unreported outcomes

J Psychopharmacol. 2008 Jan;22(1):11-23. doi: 10.1177/0269881107078308.


Two pharmacological agents have repeatedly been shown to be efficacious for relapse prevention in alcohol dependence: The putative glutamate-antagonist acamprosate and the opioid-antagonist naltrexone. Clinical evidence for both drugs is based on various outcome criteria. Whereas for acamprosate primarily abstinence maintenance has been demonstrated, studies with naltrexone have mostly emphasised the prevention of heavy drinking. The remaining effects of both drugs are not always reported; accordingly the corresponding database is fragmentary. Thus, the primary objective of the present meta-analysis was to complete the efficacy profiles for acamprosate and naltrexone and to compare them with each other. Unreported results, requested from the study investigators and the drug manufacturers, were integrated in the computation of effect sizes. For the meta-analysis, emphasis was placed on the conceptual distinction between having a first drink and returning to heavy drinking. Naltrexone was found to have a significant effect on the maintenance of abstinence as well as the prevention of heavy drinking. Acamprosate was shown only to support abstinence; it did not influence alcohol consumption after the first drink. When the efficacy profiles of the two drugs were compared, acamprosate was found to be more effective in preventing a lapse, whereas naltrexone was better in preventing a lapse from becoming a relapse. The superiority of either one drug or over the other one cannot be determined as a general rule, it rather depends on the therapeutic target. Benefits in the treatment of alcohol dependence might be optimized by matching the efficacy profiles of specific antidipsotropics with the motivational status of alcohol-dependent patients.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Acamprosate
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Deterrents / therapeutic use*
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism / drug therapy*
  • Alcoholism / psychology
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use*
  • Narcotic Antagonists / therapeutic use*
  • Publication Bias
  • Secondary Prevention
  • Taurine / analogs & derivatives*
  • Taurine / therapeutic use


  • Alcohol Deterrents
  • Narcotic Antagonists
  • Taurine
  • Naltrexone
  • Acamprosate