Preclinical and clinical pharmacology of alcohol dependence



This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: ERRATUM Volume 21, Issue 2, 215, Article first published online: 27 March 2007

*Correspondence and reprints:


In recent years, advances in neuroscience led to the development of new medications to treat alcohol dependence and especially to prevent alcohol relapse after detoxification. Whereas the earliest medications against alcohol dependence were fortuitously discovered, recently developed drugs are increasingly based on alcohol's neurobiological mechanisms of action. This review discusses the most recent developments in alcohol pharmacotherapy and emphasizes the neurobiological basis of anti-alcohol medications. There are currently three approved drugs for the treatment of alcohol dependence with quite different mechanisms of action. Disulfiram is an inhibitor of the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase and acts as an alcohol-deterrent drug. Naltrexone, an opiate antagonist, reduces alcohol craving and relapse in heavy drinking, probably via a modulation of the mesolimbic dopamine activity. Finally, acamprosate helps maintaining alcohol abstinence, probably through a normalization of the chronic alcohol-induced hyperglutamatergic state. In addition to these approved medications, many other drugs have been suggested for preventing alcohol consumption on the basis of preclinical studies. Some of these drugs remain promising, whereas others have produced disappointing results in preliminary clinical studies. These new drugs in the field of alcohol pharmacotherapy are also discussed, together with their mechanisms of action.