AIMS: Medications play a limited role in the treatment of alcoholism. This paper examines physicians' opinions about and use of two alcoholism medications currently approved in the US--disulfiram and naltrexone--and one alcoholism medication--acamprosate--that might be approved.
DESIGN: A total of 1388 substance abuse specialist physicians who were members of the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry or the American Society of Addiction Medicine completed a questionnaire in 2001 (65% response rate).
FINDINGS: The average percentages of physicians' patients with alcoholism who were prescribed the following medications were: 13% (naltrexone), 9% (disulfiram), 46% (antidepressants) and 11% (benzodiazepines). Almost all physicians had heard of naltrexone and disulfiram, but their self-reported level of knowledge about these medications was lower than for antidepressants. Physicians estimated that naltrexone had a small-to-medium effect size, which was similar in magnitude to the effect size reported in recent meta-analyses of randomized clinical trials. Physicians identified the following three courses of action as the most likely to result in greater use of medications to treat alcohol dependence: more research to develop new medications (33%), more education of physicians about existing medications (17%), and increased involvement of physicians in alcoholism treatment (17%).
CONCLUSIONS: Physicians' low rate of use of naltrexone may reflect its small-to-medium effect size.