Reductions in Alcohol Craving Following Naltrexone Treatment for Heavy Drinking

Amy W Helstrom, Frederick C Blow, Valerie Slaymaker, Henry R Kranzler, Shirley Leong, David Oslin

AIMS: The role of craving for alcohol as a response to alcohol treatment is not well understood. We examined daily diary ratings of craving over the course of 28 days among individuals participating in an inpatient substance abuse treatment program.

METHODS: Participants were alcohol dependent patients (n = 100) in the Hazelden residential treatment program who were offered and agreed to take naltrexone and an age- and gender-matched comparison group (n = 100) of alcohol-dependent patients in the same program who declined the offer of treatment with naltrexone. Changes in craving over time were compared between the two groups.

RESULTS: The naltrexone-treated group reported a more rapid decrease in craving than the usual care group.

CONCLUSIONS: The change in the trajectory of craving is consistent with prior reports suggesting that craving reduction is a mechanism of naltrexone’s efficacy in treating alcohol dependence. Providing naltrexone to individuals seeking treatment for alcohol dependence may accelerate a reduction in their craving, consistent with a primary target of many addiction treatment programs.

SHORT SUMMARY: Craving ratings by 100 residential patients taking naltrexone for alcohol dependence were compared to ratings by 100 patients who did not take naltrexone. Craving for alcohol decreased more rapidly in the patients taking naltrexone. Providing naltrexone to individuals seeking treatment for alcohol dependence may accelerate a reduction in craving, which may benefit treatment efforts.