News Release

July 14, 2004

Contact: Kristina Goodnough, 860-679-3700

Medication Helps Alcoholics Abstain, Postpone Drinking

UConn Health Center Researcher Leads Study of Naltrexone for Alcohol Dependence

FARMINGTON, CONN. - Monthly shots of naltrexone, a drug primarily used to reduce dependence on opioids, helped alcohol-dependent subjects abstain from drinking and postpone heavy drinking, according to a new study published in the July Issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (ACER).

The study, which was conducted at the University of Connecticut Health Center and 28 other sites around the country with 315 participants, was the first multi-center study of monthly injections of naltrexone for alcohol dependence. The medication, which blocks the effects of opioids by competing for opioid receptors in the brain, has been used to treat addiction to heroin, morphine and codeine. In 1994, the Food and Drug Administration approved naltrexone for the treatment of alcohol dependence; however, studies of its effectiveness in oral or tablet form for treating alcoholics have been inconsistent.

“The variable findings from earlier studies may be due, in part, to varying compliance with the drug in tablet form,” according to Henry Kranzler, M.D., professor of psychiatry and associate scientific director of the Alcohol Research Center at UConn Health Center who was principal investigator for the study. “Studies have shown that compliance with all types of medication regimens is often problematic, but heavy drinking appears to further reduce compliance with medication,” he says. “In this context, injections of sustained release medications have a potential advantage over daily oral medication, as patients cannot stop their medication on impulse when they decide to have a drink. The injections also provide more predictable and constant blood levels of the medication than tablets taken by mouth,” he says.

Participants in the study received either naltrexone injections or placebo injections monthly along with motivational enhancement therapy, a form of psychotherapy that tries to motivate people to change behavior by helping them accurately evaluate the positive and negative consequences of their drinking. During their participation in the study, volunteers were also encouraged, but not required, to attend Alcoholics Anonymous or another self-help recovery program and they were given a daily diary to help them report their alcohol consumption.

During the 12-week study, 23 percent of the naltrexone group reported no heavy drinking, compared with 16 percent of the placebo subjects; and 18 percent of the naltrexone group achieved total abstinence compared with 10 percent of the placebo group. Data were analyzed in a very conservative way, so any missing information on drinking was treated as though it indicated heavy drinking. Reporting by the subjects was corroborated by blood tests to measure a liver enzyme that increases in response to heavy alcohol consumption.

“The results provide evidence for the effectiveness of the injectable form of naltrexone for treatment of alcohol dependence,” says Kranzler. “The subjects who received the naltrexone injections had significantly longer times to their first drinking day, significantly fewer drinking days during treatment, and a significantly greater abstinence rate than the subjects who received a placebo.”

UConn Health includes the schools of medicine and dental medicine, the UConn Medical Group, University Dentists, and John Dempsey Hospital. Home to Bioscience Connecticut, UConn Health pursues a mission of providing outstanding health care education in an environment of exemplary patient care, research and public service. More information about UConn Health is available at

Note: News professionals are invited to visit the UConn Health Today news page ( for regularly updated news and feature stories, photos and media stories. News releases are archived at UConn Health news and information is also available on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.