Acamprosate: a new medication for alcohol use disorders

Substance Abuse Treatment
Breaking News for the T
reatment Field
Acamprosate: A New Medication
for Alcohol Use Disorders
What is acamprosate?
glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter systems. Although acamprosate’s Acamprosate (calcium acetyl homotaurinate) is a mechanism of action has not been clearly established, new prescription medication to help people who it may work by reducing symptoms of postacute are alcohol dependent. Acamprosate is the third (protracted) withdrawal, such as insomnia, anxiety, medication, after disulfiram (Antabuse®) and naltrexone (ReVia®), to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for postwithdrawal How does acamprosate’s
maintenance of alcohol abstinence. It is the first new medication approved for this purpose in a activity compare with that of
decade. FDA approved acamprosate in July 2004. other medications used to treat
It became available in the United States in January alcohol dependence?
2005, under the trade name Campral® Delayed- Acamprosate differs in significant ways from Release Tablets. Acamprosate has been used for disulfiram and naltrexone, the other two agents nearly 20 years in Europe, where it has been found approved by FDA for alcohol abstinence mainte­ to be safe and effective for treating alcohol dependence (Mann et al. 2004; Tempesta et al. 2000). Disulfiram, used to treat alcohol dependence for
decades, is an aversive medication that inhibits
How does acamprosate work?
aldehyde dehydrogenase and leads to increased levels of acetaldehyde. When a person taking disul­ Chronic, heavy use of alcohol affects several firam drinks alcohol, the increased acetaldehyde neurotransmitter systems in the brain. These neuro­ causes severe physical reactions such as facial transmitter systems adapt to the chronic presence flushing, nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, of alcohol. Once they have adapted, these systems headache, and weakness. Disulfiram does not are only in equilibrium with alcohol. When alcohol reduce craving or normalize brain functioning, use ceases, the systems become disregulated and as acamprosate and naltrexone are believed to do. enter a pathologic hyperexcitatory state. It is Instead, disulfiram’s effectiveness depends on the thought that acamprosate helps modulate and patient’s reluctance to suffer the aversive effects normalize brain activity, particularly in the U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment

Substance Abuse Treatment
Table 1: Comparison of Drugs Approved for Maintenance of Abstinence From Alcohol
Acamprosate (Campral)
Disulfiram (Antabuse)
Naltrexone (ReVia)
of Action
is ingested; reduces craving for alcohol Patient Status immediately following acute with­
acamprosate may benefit from continuing the medication Examples
isoniazid, rifampin, diazepam, chlordiazepoxide, imipramine, desi­pramine, and oral hypoglycemics Side Effects
liver toxicity, peripheral neuropathy, potential liver toxicity (especially at psychosis, and delirium Contraindi-
cations and
patients with depression only when potential benefits justify potential risk FDA pregnancy category C* *FDA pregnancy category C: Animal studies have indicated potential fetal risk OR have not been conducted and no or insufficient human studies have been done. The drug should be used with pregnant or lactating women only when potential benefits justify potential risk to the fetus or infant. Substance Abuse Treatment
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Naltrexone (an opioid antagonist) blocks opioid
Acamprosate has not been found to be associated with receptors, leading to reductions in craving and in the any significant drug (including alcohol) interactions and reinforcing effects of alcohol. Unlike naltrexone, does not affect the action of coadministered disulfiram, acamprosate does not affect the action or subjective diazepam, nordiazepam, imipramine, desipramine, effects of alcohol (Brasser et al. 2004). selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, naltrexone, or naltrexol. No adjustment of dosage is recommended in Patients with liver damage usually cannot use either patients taking these other medications. naltrexone or disulfiram. However, because acamprosate is not metabolized in the liver, patients with liver Can acamprosate be used for
Preliminary evidence suggests that treatment outcomes improve when acamprosate is combined with naltrexone Research on the effectiveness of acamprosate in treating or with disulfiram, particularly for patients who the symptoms of acute withdrawal has been inconclu­ responded poorly to therapy with any of these medica­ sive, and FDA has not approved its use for this purpose. tions alone (Besson et al. 1998; Kiefer and Wiedemann However, patients who are already taking acamprosate 2003; Kiefer et al. 2003). Combination therapy also and who relapse may be medically withdrawn from has been found to be safe. No specific protocol for alcohol without discontinuing acamprosate. combination therapy has been established as yet, but the results of a large national study, sponsored by the How safe is acamprosate?
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Acamprosate is not addicting and appears to have no will be available soon. The study, Combining potential for abuse; patients maintained on the drug Medications and Behavioral Interventions (COMBINE), have developed no known tolerance for or dependence examines the effects of naltrexone and acamprosate on it. It also carries little overdose risk. Even at over­ and two psychosocial therapies, alone and in various doses up to 56 grams (a normal daily dose is 2 grams), acamprosate was generally well tolerated by patients (Thomson Healthcare, Inc. 2005). Are there side effects or drug
Because acamprosate is not metabolized by the liver, it interactions with acamprosate?
can be used by individuals with liver disease. Because The most common side effects experienced by people acamprosate is excreted primarily from the kidneys, taking acamprosate are diarrhea, insomnia, anxiety, patients with severe renal impairment (creatinine muscle weakness, nausea, itchiness, and dizziness. clearance <30 mL/min) should not use acamprosate. Uncommon, but serious, side effects include depression Those with moderate renal impairment (creatinine and suicidal thoughts. Most side effects are usually mild clearance 30–50 mL/min) may be able to take the and transient, lessening or disappearing within the first medication with dosage adjustments and careful Substance Abuse Treatment
Patients should be told to be cautious about driving How can treatment providers
or operating heavy machinery until they know how incorporate acamprosate into their
acamprosate will affect their ability to engage in these programs?
activities and until they have adjusted to any effects of the drug. Treatment program staff should be well educated about acamprosate and its effects and be able to educate clients In clinical trials, suicidal events (suicidal ideation, about the medication. Acamprosate is a prescription attempted suicides, completed suicides), although rare, medication, so treatment providers need to be able to were more common in acamprosate-treated participants provide the medication and medically monitor the than in participants receiving placebo. Patients should patient, either on site or through relationships with be monitored for symptoms of depression or suicidal thinking. Families and caregivers should be informed of the need to monitor their family members for these Treatment providers should assess patients’ clinical signs and report their occurrence to the substance abuse appropriateness for acamprosate. Patients who have been treatment counselor or prescribing professional. in treatment multiple times but have been unable to sustain abstinence or those for whom disulfiram or Use of acamprosate during pregnancy has not been naltrexone or both have not been effective may be studied with humans. Animal studies of acamprosate particularly appropriate candidates for acamprosate. and pregnancy have found some potential fetal risk. The However, given the medication’s good safety profile, potential risk of taking acamprosate during pregnancy patients new to treatment also may be considered good should be balanced with the potential benefits (consider­ candidates for acamprosate therapy. A good candidate ing the known adverse effects of alcohol, particularly also is interested in trying the medication and willing and able to take it regularly as prescribed. The use of acamprosate by older adults or by children Motivation is an important factor. Clinical trials found has not been studied. Because of the higher risk of that participants receiving acamprosate who were diminished renal function among older adults, acam­ motivated and committed to total abstinence at the start prosate should be used with caution with this population. of treatment had lower relapse risk than less motivated participants (FDA Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Campral Dosage and Timing
Committee 2002). Less motivated patients are those whose personal goals, for instance, allow for slips, con­ • The recommended dosage of Campral is two trolled drinking, other modified alcohol consumption, 333 mg tablets three times a day, with or without or other substance abuse. Research has not documented the effectiveness of acamprosate with patients who use • Treatment with acamprosate should be initiated multiple substances in addition to alcohol. as soon as possible after alcohol withdrawal and should be maintained if the patient relapses. Researchers also have looked at whether certain clinical • Treatment duration at this dosage ranged from characteristics (e.g., age of onset of alcohol use disorder, level of craving, gender, family history of alcohol use) • The manufacturer recommends treatment Substance Abuse Treatment
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . might predict which individuals are more likely than others to abstain from alcohol successfully on acamprosate. What To Tell the Patient
This research did not find a relationship between patient Treatment program staff can support patients characteristics and successful acamprosate therapy (Verheul taking acamprosate by educating them about the et al. 2005). Any patient who is found to be both medically and motivationally appropriate for acamprosate therapy and wants to try the medication should be given the • Informing them about the benefits and • Informing them that it can take 5 to 8 days Once the treatment provider and patient decide that acamprosate may help, the client should be referred to a person who can prescribe it. The prescribing professional • Stressing the importance of taking the should assess the patient’s medical appropriateness for therapy with acamprosate by conducting a medical • Encouraging them to talk to their prescribing examination, including laboratory tests to obtain baseline professional about the duration of acamprosate • Encouraging them to talk to their prescribing Medications for alcohol use disorders do not replace professional about other medications they are counseling. Individuals taking acamprosate should be expected to participate fully in a treatment program’s • Encouraging them to report side effects of the activities, including attending 12-Step or mutual-help drug and explaining that most of these resolve group meetings. In addition, they may need ongoing motivational counseling specifically geared to helping • Encouraging women to inform all treatment providers immediately if they become pregnant Regular communication between treatment providers during therapy, if they are trying to become and the prescribing medical professional is essential. In particular, treatment providers need to communicate • Stressing the importance of continuing information concerning the patient to the prescribing counseling and 12-Step or mutual-help group • Stressing the need for caution in driving or • Reported or detected drinking or drug use episodes operating heavy machinery until they are • Patient concerns about side effects certain that acamprosate has no adverse effects on their participation in these activities and • Issues affecting the patient’s safety (suicidal ideation, reported or observed increase in levels of depression or anxiety, or significant physical complaints) • Advising them to continue taking the medication if a slip or relapse occurs and to inform their counselor and prescribing professional immediately • Expressed desire to stop taking the medication Substance Abuse Treatment
Treatment providers should encourage patients to talk directly to their prescribing professionals about these and other issues or questions they may have. 3857b1_01_Lipha.pdf [accessed June 8, 2005]. Kiefer, F.; Holger, J.; Tarnaske, T.; Helwig, H.; Briken, P.; How long should an individual take
Holzbach, R.; Kampf, P.; Stracke, R.; Baehr, M.; acamprosate?
Naber, D.; and Wiedemann, K. Comparing and com­ The manufacturer of acamprosate recommends that bining naltrexone and acamprosate in relapse preven­ acamprosate therapy be continued for 1 year (the effec­ tion of alcoholism. Archives of General Psychiatry tiveness and safety of the medication have not been evaluated for periods of use longer than a year). Given Kiefer, F., and Wiedemann, K. Combined therapy: What that guideline, the length of time a particular patient takes does acamprosate and naltrexone combination tell us? acamprosate will be determined, ideally, with input from Alcohol and Alcoholism 39(6):542–547, 2003. the prescribing professional, the treatment provider, and the patient. Discontinuation of acamprosate may be con­ Mann, K.; Lehert, P.; and Morgan, M.Y. The efficacy sidered once a patient has achieved stable abstinence from of acamprosate in the maintenance of abstinence in alcohol, reports diminished craving, and has established alcohol-dependent individuals: Results of a meta­ a sound plan and support for ongoing recovery. analysis. Alcohol Clinical and Experimental Research Acamprosate therapy also may be discontinued if a patient is not compliant with the medication regimen. Tempesta, E.; Janiri, L.; Bignamini, A.; Chabac, S.; and Acamprosate should not be discontinued just because Potgieter, A. Acamprosate and relapse prevention in the treatment of alcohol dependence: A placebo-controlled study. Alcohol and Alcoholism References
Besson, J.; Aeby, F.; Kasas, A.; Lehert, P.; and Potgieter, Thomson Healthcare, Inc. Physicians’ Desk Reference, A. Combined efficacy of acamprosate and disulfiram 59th Edition. Montvale, NJ: Thomson PDR, 2005, in the treatment of alcoholism: A controlled study. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research 22(3):573–579, 1998. Verheul, R.; Lehert, P.; Geerlings, P.J.; Koeter, M.W.; and van den Brink, W. Predictors of acamprosate Brasser, S.M.; McCaul, M.E.; and Houtsmuller, E.J. efficacy: Results from a pooled analysis of seven Alcohol effects during acamprosate treatment: A dose- European trials including 1,485 alcohol-dependent response study in humans. Alcoholism: Clinical and patients. Psychopharmacology (Berl) Experimental Research 28(7):1074–1083, 2004. FDA Psychopharmacologic Drugs Advisory Committee, May 10, 2002. Briefing Document for Acamprosate 333 mg Tablets, April 3, 2002. Lipha Pharmaceuticals, Substance Abuse Treatment
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Selected Publications
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Naltrexone and Alcoholism Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (TIP) Series 28. DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 98-3206. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1998 (available through Rockville, MD 20857 Phone: 240-276-2130 (Office of Communications) Miller, W.R. (ed.) COMBINE Monograph Series, Volume 1. Combined Behavioral Intervention Manual: A Clinical Research Guide for Therapists Treating People With National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Alcohol Abuse and Dependence. DHHS Publication No. (NIH) 04-5288. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 2004 (available NIAAA. Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much: A Clinician’s Guide, 2005 Edition. Bethesda, MD: NIAAA, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and in development (will be available through NIAAA). Pettinati, H.M.; Weiss, R.D.; Miller, W.R.; Donovan, D.; Ernst, D.B.; and Rounsaville, B.J. COMBINE Monograph Series, Volume 2. Medical Management Treatment Manual: A Clinical Research Guide for Medically Trained U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Clinicians Providing Pharmacotherapy as Part of the Treatment for Alcohol Dependence. DHHS Publication No. (NIH) 04-5289. Bethesda, MD: NIAAA, 2004 Substance Abuse Treatment
Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory
Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory—published on an as-needed basis for treatment providers—was written and produced under contract number 270-04-7049 by the Knowledge Application Program (KAP), a Joint Venture of Johnson, Bassin & Shaw, Inc., and The CDM Group, Inc., for the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Christina Currier serves as the Government Project Officer for the Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory. The content of this publication does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. Public Domain Notice: All material appearing in this report is in the public domain and may be reproduced or copied
without permission; citation of the source is appreciated. However, this publication may not be reproduced or distributed
for a fee without the specific, written authorization of the Office of Communications, SAMHSA, HHS.
Electronic Access and Copies of Publication: This publication can be accessed electronically through the Internet at
Additional free print copies can be ordered from SAMHSA’s NCADI at 800-729-6686.
Recommended Citation: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Acamprosate: A new medication for alcohol use
disorders. Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory. Volume 4, Issue 1. Fall 2005.
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Substance Abuse Treatment Advisory
DHHS Publication No. (SMA) 05–4114 NCADI Publication No. MS974 Acamprosate: A New Medication for Alcohol Use Disorders


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