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Treating Alcoholism With a Monthly Shot

Study: Counseling Plus Monthly Shot of Naltrexone Shows Promise

Testing the Shots

The six-month study included more than 600 adults with alcoholism at 24 hospitals, clinics, and Veterans' Administration health facilities across the country.

All had been diagnosed with alcohol dependence and had had at least two heavy drinking episodes per week in the last month. That's at least five drinks at a time for men and four or more for women.

Nearly 200 patients got a monthly injection of 380 milligrams of naltrexone. Around 200 more got 190 milligrams of naltrexone in one monthly shot. The rest received a placebo shot. Everyone also took 12 counseling sessions for alcoholism.

Heavy Drinking Down, but Alcohol Not Eliminated

The biggest improvement was seen with the higher-dose shot. In that group, heavy drinking days decreased by 25% compared with the placebo group. Those taking the lower dose of naltrexone had 17% fewer heavy drinking days than the placebo group.

The results -- which were based on patients' self-reports -- were better for those who said they hadn't had a drink for a week before the study.

Neither dose of naltrexone significantly lowered the rate of "risky drinking" or any drinking, the study shows. For people facing alcoholism, risky drinking days are defined as more than two daily drinks for men or more than one for women.

Side Effects

At least 10% of those receiving naltrexone had side effects, researchers say. The most common side effects were nausea, headache, and fatigue.

About 14% of those taking the stronger shots quit the study due to side effects. So did 7% of each of the other two groups.

All in all, the treatment was well tolerated and could be beneficial, the researchers write.

Besides the Alkermes employees, several of the scientists have consulted for or received research support from the company, according to the journal.

SOURCES: Garbutt, J. The Journal of the American Medical Association, April 2, 2006; vol 293: pp 1617-1625. News release, JAMA/Archives. National Alcohol Screening Day, "Attend A Screening."

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