Current progress in pharmacologic treatment strategies for alcohol dependence

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Alcoholism is a progressive neurological disorder that represents one of the leading preventable causes of morbidity and mortality in the USA. Individuals with alcohol dependence may exhibit differences in their sensitivity to intoxication, the age at which they begin heavy drinking or the presentation of comorbid psychiatric illness. The heterogeneous nature of the disorder has complicated efforts to predict treatment outcomes, indicating a need for improved diagnostic and therapeutic approaches. Pharmaceutical development has focused on treating the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, reducing consumption of and craving for alcohol, preventing relapse and treating associated psychiatric problems. Current therapies may be optimized by combining psychosocial and pharmacologic approaches to treat alcoholic patients with the most appropriate regimen to achieve the desired therapeutic outcome. This article will describe the neurobiological mechanisms of dependence on alcohol in brief and review major medications approved for the treatment of alcoholism with regard to recent clinical evidence for the therapeutic efficacy of each agent. Investigations on the use of drugs with other indications (e.g., antidepressants and anticonvulsants) to target alcohol-dependent subtypes will also be discussed. © 2012 © 2012 Expert Reviews Ltd.

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