Meta-analysis of naltrexone and acamprosate for treating alcohol use disorders: when are these medications most helpful?
Correspondence to: Natalya Maisel, Center for Health Care Evaluation, VA Palo Alto Health Care System (152MPD), 795 Willow Rd., Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA.
Although debates over the efficacy of oral naltrexone and acamprosate in treating alcohol use disorders tend to focus on their global efficacy relative to placebo or their efficacy relative to each other, the underlying reality may be more nuanced. This meta-analysis examined when naltrexone and acamprosate are most helpful by testing: (i) the relative efficacy of each medication given its presumed mechanism of action (reducing heavy drinking versus fostering abstinence) and (ii) whether different ways of implementing each medication (required abstinence before treatment, detoxification before treatment, goal of treatment, length of treatment, dosage) moderate its effects.
A systematic literature search identified 64 randomized, placebo-controlled, English-language clinical trials completed between 1970 and 2009 focused on acamprosate or naltrexone.
Acamprosate had a significantly larger effect size than naltrexone on the maintenance of abstinence, and naltrexone had a larger effect size than acamprosate on the reduction of heavy drinking and craving. For naltrexone, requiring abstinence before the trial was associated with larger effect sizes for abstinence maintenance and reduced heavy drinking compared with placebo. For acamprosate, detoxification before medication administration was associated with better abstinence outcomes compared with placebo.
In treatment for alcohol use disorders, acamprosate has been found to be slightly more efficacious in promoting abstinence and naltrexone slightly more efficacious in reducing heavy drinking and craving. Detoxification before treatment or a longer period of required abstinence before treatment is associated with larger medication effects for acamprosate and naltrexone respectively.