Naltrexone or acamprosate should be offered as first-line pharmacologic therapy to patients with moderate to severe alcohol use disorder (AUD) who do not respond to nonpharmacologic therapy alone, according to a practice guideline published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Disulfiram, topiramate, or gabapentin may be offered as a second-line treatment option in certain circumstances if naltrexone and acamprosate are not effective or well tolerated, the report said.

The APA guideline recommends against the use of antidepressants and benzodiazepines for patients with alcohol use disorder, except for situations where a co-occurring disorder requires treatment. In addition, the guideline recommends against the use of acamprosate in patients with renal impairment, and specifies that naltrexone should not be used by patients with acute hepatitis, hepatic failure, or opioid dependence.

“Naltrexone and acamprosate have the best available evidence as pharmacotherapy for patients with AUD,” wrote Victor I. Reus, MD , and his coauthors in the APA Guideline Writing Group, which formed the guideline using a systematic review of current literature in accordance with Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality standards.

Naltrexone, an opioid receptor antagonist, is effective in treating both AUD and opioid use disorder. Studies have shown that it may decrease cravings, and is associated with fewer drinking days and a reduced likelihood of return to drinking, the authors reported. In patients with a history of renal impairment, serum creatinine should be measured, and results should be reviewed before initiating treatment with acamprosate – a synthetic amino acid.

Disulfiram breaks down acetaldehyde, an ethanol byproduct, and should be used only to treat patients with a goal of abstinence. It is not recommended as a first-line therapy because of the side effects of concurrent alcohol use, including tachycardia, flushing, headache, nausea, and vomiting, reported Dr. Reus of the psychiatry department at the University of California, San Francisco, and his coauthors.

“Patients should be fully informed of the physiological consequences of consuming alcohol while taking disulfiram and should agree to taking the medication,” the authors wrote. “They should be instructed to abstain from drinking alcohol for at least 12 hours before taking a dose of the medication and be advised that reactions with alcohol can occur up to 14 days after taking disulfiram.”

Lastly, topiramate and gabapentin may be used in patients for whom naltrexone and acamprosate are ineffective, though topiramate may have side effects of concern to the patient, including cognitive dysfunction and numbness, tingling, paresthesias, dizziness, taste abnormalities, and decreased appetite or weight loss, the report said.

Although the APA guideline acknowledges the importance of psychiatric evaluation and nonpharmacologic treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and 12-step programs, it does not provide recommendations on those treatment options.

Further research on alcohol use disorder should include study of quantitative measures for longitudinal monitoring, co-occurring medical and psychiatric conditions, and the effectiveness of naltrexone versus combination therapy for patients with both AUD and opioid use disorder, the authors said.

“The overall goal of this guideline is to enhance the treatment of AUD for millions of affected individuals, thereby reducing the significant psychosocial and public health consequences of this important psychiatric condition,” the report concluded. An executive summary of the guideline was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The guideline authors disclosed no conflicts of interest with their work on the guideline.

SOURCE: Reus VI et al. Am J Psychiatry. 2018;175:86-90 .


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