Medication treatment of different types of alcoholism

Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Jun;167(6):630-9. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2010.08101500.


Alcoholism remains a serious cause of morbidity and mortality despite progress through neurobiological research in identifying new pharmacological strategies for its treatment. Drugs that affect neural pathways that modulate the activity of the cortico-mesolimbic dopamine system have been shown to alter drinking behavior, presumably because this dopaminergic system is closely associated with rewarding behavior. Ondansetron, naltrexone, topiramate, and baclofen are examples. Subtyping alcoholism in adults into an early-onset type, with chronic symptoms and a strong biological predisposition to the disease, and a late-onset type, typically brought on by psychosocial triggers and associated with mood symptoms, may help in the selection of optimal therapy. Emerging adults with binge drinking patterns also might be aided by selective treatments. Although preliminary work on the pharmacogenetics of alcoholism and its treatment has been promising, the assignment to treatment still depends on clinical assessment. Brief behavioral interventions that encourage the patient to set goals for a reduction in heavy drinking or abstinence also are part of optimal therapy.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcohol Deterrents / therapeutic use
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism / physiopathology
  • Alcoholism / rehabilitation*
  • Baclofen / therapeutic use
  • Chronic Disease
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Depressive Disorder / psychology
  • Female
  • Fructose / analogs & derivatives
  • Fructose / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Limbic System / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Naltrexone / therapeutic use
  • Ondansetron / therapeutic use
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / physiology
  • Receptors, GABA / physiology
  • Topiramate
  • Young Adult


  • Alcohol Deterrents
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Receptors, GABA
  • Topiramate
  • Fructose
  • Ondansetron
  • Naltrexone
  • Baclofen