Pharmacotherapy for Alcohol Use Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

JAMA. 2023 Nov 7;330(17):1653-1665. doi: 10.1001/jama.2023.19761.


Importance: Alcohol use disorder affects more than 28.3 million people in the United States and is associated with increased rates of morbidity and mortality.

Objective: To compare efficacy and comparative efficacy of therapies for alcohol use disorder.

Data sources: PubMed, the Cochrane Library, the Cochrane Central Trials Registry, PsycINFO, CINAHL, and EMBASE were searched from November 2012 to September 9, 2022 Literature was subsequently systematically monitored to identify relevant articles up to August 14, 2023, and the PubMed search was updated on August 14, 2023.

Study selection: For efficacy outcomes, randomized clinical trials of at least 12 weeks' duration were included. For adverse effects, randomized clinical trials and prospective cohort studies that compared drug therapies and reported health outcomes or harms were included.

Data extraction and synthesis: Two reviewers evaluated each study, assessed risk of bias, and graded strength of evidence. Meta-analyses used random-effects models. Numbers needed to treat were calculated for medications with at least moderate strength of evidence for benefit.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was alcohol consumption. Secondary outcomes were motor vehicle crashes, injuries, quality of life, function, mortality, and harms.

Results: Data from 118 clinical trials and 20 976 participants were included. The numbers needed to treat to prevent 1 person from returning to any drinking were 11 (95% CI, 1-32) for acamprosate and 18 (95% CI, 4-32) for oral naltrexone at a dose of 50 mg/d. Compared with placebo, oral naltrexone (50 mg/d) was associated with lower rates of return to heavy drinking, with a number needed to treat of 11 (95% CI, 5-41). Injectable naltrexone was associated with fewer drinking days over the 30-day treatment period (weighted mean difference, -4.99 days; 95% CI, -9.49 to -0.49 days) Adverse effects included higher gastrointestinal distress for acamprosate (diarrhea: risk ratio, 1.58; 95% CI, 1.27-1.97) and naltrexone (nausea: risk ratio, 1.73; 95% CI, 1.51-1.98; vomiting: risk ratio, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.23-1.91) compared with placebo.

Conclusions and relevance: In conjunction with psychosocial interventions, these findings support the use of oral naltrexone at 50 mg/d and acamprosate as first-line pharmacotherapies for alcohol use disorder.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acamprosate* / adverse effects
  • Acamprosate* / therapeutic use
  • Alcohol Deterrents* / adverse effects
  • Alcohol Deterrents* / therapeutic use
  • Alcohol Drinking
  • Alcoholism* / drug therapy
  • Alcoholism* / epidemiology
  • Alcoholism* / psychology
  • Alcoholism* / therapy
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / epidemiology
  • Drug-Related Side Effects and Adverse Reactions / etiology
  • Humans
  • Naltrexone* / adverse effects
  • Naltrexone* / therapeutic use
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychosocial Intervention
  • Quality of Life
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Acamprosate
  • Naltrexone
  • Alcohol Deterrents