Even with the best interventions, alcoholism is notoriously difficult to treat. So although a new pill called acamprosate troubles those who fear it will be viewed as a quick fix, it's also raising hopes. Data from U.S. trials in 601 patients have not been released, but principal investigator Barbara Mason, director of the University of Miami's Division of Substance Abuse, told NEWSWEEK that in patients motivated to quit drinking, the drug boosted abstinence at rates comparable to those found in a group of European studies. In one important measurement of efficacy in those trials, patients taking acamprosate increased the number of days they didn't drink by about 10 to 25 percent over a placebo.
Mason says the pill--which appears to work by quieting neurotransmitters associated with alcohol dependence without serious side effects--must be used together with behavioral therapy. The FDA is expected to review trial data by the end of the year. "It's not magic," says Mason, a research consultant to the drug's manufacturer, Lipha Pharmaceuticals, but "I think we're really starting to make some inroads."