Promising New Treatments for Alcohol Addiction

A new study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association pinpoints promising new drug combinations and other treatments to combat alcohol addiction. Ed Gordon talks with Dr. Allen Zweben, a co-author of the study.

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ED GORDON, host:

Studies have shown that nationwide, death rates attributed to Alcohol Dependence Syndrome, are higher for blacks than any other group. But there's encouraging news. A study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association pinpoints some groundbreaking treatments for alcohol addiction. We asked lead researcher Alan Zweben to give us a synopsis of the findings.

Mr. ALLEN ZWEBEN (Associate Dean of Research, Columbia University School of Social Work): One of the questions we asked is whether we can provide treatment in healthcare settings. Most of the treatment for alcohol problems has been directed at specialty settings, and people—-although large numbers of people with alcohol problems are seen in medical settings, they often go untreated or they get referred to specialized programs--and many of them don't show up. And so, the opportunity arose to see whether we can treat these people in a healthcare setting by adding a medication, or by also providing them with some specialty care within this particular setting. And what we found was that many of the people could be successfully treated in a healthcare setting by providing a medication called Naltrexone, which has been used, but mostly with other kinds of approaches, not healthcare or medical management.

We looked at this data, and the minority populations were just as affected positively, as other groups. If there was specific issues around minority population, like case management issues or family intervention, we addressed those. The next phase might be to try to incorporate this into alcohol curriculum for social workers, psychologists, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. So there's a lot of good findings, and the manuals themselves are going to be revised so they become more accessible to different kinds of professionals.

Most of the treatment for alcohol problems has been directed at specialty settings. Although, large numbers of people with alcohol problems are seen in medical settings, they often go untreated or they get referred to specialized programs, and many of them don't show up. And so the opportunity arose to see whether we can treat these people in a healthcare setting by adding a medication or by also providing them with some specialty care within this particular setting.

GORDON: Alan Zweben is an associate dean of research at the Columbia University School of Social Work. His study is titled Combining Medications and Behavioral Intervention for Alcoholism. For more on the report, log on to NPR.org and go to the NEWS AND NOTES page.

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GORDON: Coming up, a CIA shakeup, and did prison guards kill a young black boy in boot camp? Those stories and more on our roundtable.

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