Objective Previous research has suggested that both lithium and buspirone could lessen alcoholics’ desire to drink as well as reduce the actual amounts of alcohol consumed. The purpose of this study was to compare lithium and buspirone monotherapy with placebo on outcomes of abstinence, alcohol quantity consumed, treatment retention and compliance, and medication side effects.
Methods: We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, three-arm parallel group, clinical trial that compared lithium and buspirone with placebo in 156 alcohol-dependent men.
Results: Study retention rates for the three treatment groups at 3 and 6 months, respectively, were 61% and 46% for lithium, 44% and 27% for buspirone, and 52% and 38% for placebo (p= NS, for 3 and 6 months). Overall abstinence rates were 28% and 19% at 3 and 6 months, respectively. However, mean daily quantities of alcohol consumed and percentage of drinking days decreased significantly (p < 0.0001) over time in all treatment groups. Differential improvement was seen only for the decrement in quantity consumed in the buspirone group, compared with the placebo group, but only at a trend level (p= 0.07). According to pill counts, compliance did not differ significantly among the treatment groups.
Conclusions: These results do not support the hypothesis that either lithium or buspirone, compared with placebo, produces differential reductions in alcohol consumption. The results suggest the need to enhance treatment retention to maximize outcomes.