Family History Of Alcoholism Affects Response To Drug Used To Treat Heavy Drinking

As we learn more about genetic factors and brain science there is growing interest in developing typologies that might help in treatment decisions. Past attempts at this have been pretty shaky, so I’ll believe it when I see a good evidence-base. Keep in mind that this looks very preliminary:

Naltrexone is one of four oral medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of alcoholism. A recent large multicenter research study of alcohol dependence supported by the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA), the COMBINE Study, suggested that naltrexone produced a modest but significant benefit but another FDA-approved medication, acamprosate, was ineffective.

Perhaps consistent with its modest effects in COMBINE, naltrexone is not widely prescribed in the treatment of alcoholism. Yet, clinicians report that naltrexone may have significant benefits for individual patients.

John H. Krystal, M.D., one of the authors, notes that “When studied in large groups, naltrexone appears to have a rather small effect upon the ability to reduce drinking or remain abstinent from alcohol. However, there is growing evidence that there are subgroups of patients who show substantial benefit from naltrexone, even when naltrexone fails to work in the overall trial.*

“According to Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin, Ph.D., the lead author, “The results suggest that family history of alcoholism may be an important predictor of clinical response to naltrexone and could potentially be used to guide clinical practice.” Dr. Krystal agrees, “These data suggest that family history might influence the optimal dosing of naltrexone and the nature of the clinical response.”