WebMD Health News
Jan. 4, 2006 -- Psychology plays a role in the success of drugs that
treat severe alcoholism, a new German study shows.
"We found an [alcohol] abstinence rate of more than 50% among the
patients studied," researcher Hannelore Ehrenreich, MD, DVM, says in a
She and her colleagues report that two alcoholism drugs -- Antabuse
and calcium carbimide -- were tied to alcohol abstinence.
The drugs seemed to be well-tolerated, even with long-term use. The
longer patients took the drugs, the more likely they were to stay
sober, even after stopping the drugs, Ehrenreich says.
She works at the Max Planck Institute of Experimental Medicine in
Fake Drugs Also Counted
Fake drugs that didn't contain any medication were also associated
with alcohol abstinence.
"Sham alcohol deterrents are as efficient as [Antabuse] or calcium
carbimide, provided that the use is repeatedly explained and
continuously guided and encouraged," Ehrenreich says.
The psychological counseling given to patients may be the reason, the
researchers write. Their study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical &
The study included 180 people with severe alcoholism who were enrolled
in a two-year outpatient program to address their alcoholism through
counseling and medications.
After alcohol detoxification, participants got real alcoholism drugs
(Antabuse or calcium carbimide) or fake drugs. The sham drugs were
only given to patients with medical conditions that ruled out using
the real drugs.
Participants were followed for nine years. They didn't take the drugs
that long, tapering off the medications after a year had passed (with
some staying on Antabuse for a longer time).
Because people don't always accurately report their drinking habits,
participants got blood tests to check for signs of alcohol use.
Better Results From Psychology?
Participants' odds of not relapsing were better than half (52%) over
the nine-year period. Their odds of not drinking any alcohol during
that time were better than one in four (26%).
The fake and real drugs were both tied to alcohol abstinence and
called "alcohol deterrents" by the researchers. Antabuse causes a
person to have unpleasant effects if alcohol is consumed, thus serving
as a negative deterrent.
Besides taking the drugs, participants also got psychological
counseling. The therapists "dramatically outline[d] the danger of
drinking alcohol under the influence of the alcohol deterrent," write
The therapists also praised patients for staying sober and stressed
the importance of building an alcohol-free lifestyle.
If participants started drinking, they got what the researchers call
"aggressive aftercare." That included immediate steps -- including
unscheduled visits to participants' homes by the therapists -- to nip
relapses in the bud.