Drug Nalmefene Reduces Heavy Drinking

Nalmefene appears to be effective and safe in reducing heavy drinking, even when accompanied by minimal psychological and social support, according research reported in the scientific journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

In the this randomized double-blind study, subjects were instructed to take either nalmefene (N = 242) or placebo (N = 161) when they believed drinking to be imminent. After 28 weeks, 57 subjects from the nalmefene group continued into a 24-week randomized withdrawal extension. Psycho-social intervention was minimal and no treatment goals were imposed. Both self-reported and biomedical indicators of alcohol consumption were measured.

During treatment, the mean number of reported heavy drinking days dropped significantly more in the nalmefene group than in the placebo group. In addition, the levels of serum alanine aminotransferase and γ-glutamyl transferase decreased significantly more in the nalmefene group compared to the placebo group. During the randomized withdrawal period, subjects randomized to placebo apparently returned to heavier drinking.

Although complete life-long abstinence from alcohol has been  the traditional goal of alcohol dependence or alcoholism treatment, over the last 20 years drinking reduction (or harm reduction) has increasingly been seen as a goal equal to abstinence.

This is important because many people are reluctant to commit to a lifetime without consuming any alcohol and therefore do not seek traditional abstinence-only treatment. The use of nalmefene doesn’t require abstinence and it can be prescribed by any primary care physician.


  • Sakari Karhuvaara, S., et al.  Targeted nalmefene with simple medical management in the treatment of heavy drinkers: A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled multicenter study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 2007, 31 (7), 1179–1187. (doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2007.00401.x)

Filed Under: Alcohol Abuse