Medications that could help alcoholics quit drinking are rarely prescribed, according to a new study released Tuesday. The drugs — acamprosate and naltrexone — reduce cravings for alcohol, but researchers say there's a lack of awareness and understanding of their efficacy among doctors.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, focused on "the number needed to treat," The New York Times reports. That is an indicator of how many people have to take a pill for one to be helped; this study found that the number to treat for acamprosate was 12, while naltrexone was 20 (widely used drugs like statins need at least 25 people, often much more). The researchers only looked at the effectiveness of the drugs in combination with counseling and therapy.
"These drugs are really underused quite a bit, and our findings show that they can help thousands and thousands of people," says lead author Dr. Daniel E. Jonas at the University of North Carolina. "They're not blockbuster. They're not going to work for everybody. But they can make a difference for a lot of people." The World Health Organization just reported that alcohol kills someone every 10 seconds worldwide. In the U.S. about 18 million people abuse alcohol, not quite a third of those receive treatment, and less than 10 percent are prescribed medications, The New York Times said.