Dose-ranging kinetics and behavioral pharmacology of naltrexone and acamprosate, both alone and combined, in alcohol-dependent subjects

Bankole A. Johnson, Stephanie S. O'Malley, Domenic A. Ciraulo, John D. Roache, Robert A. Chambers, Ofra Sarid-Segal, David Couper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


We examined kinetic and dynamic factors to determine the pharmacological and behavioral safety and tolerability of low versus high doses of an opiate antagonist, naltrexone (50 mg/day vs. 100 mg/day), and acamprosate (2 g/day vs. 3 g/day), a functional N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist, both independently and combined, among non-treatment-seeking, alcohol-dependent individuals. This double-blind, double-dummy, placebo-controlled, randomized, 23-day, four-way crossover study involved 23 subjects assigned to one of four groups. Placebo washout (phase I) preceded phase II, where subjects received low-dose or high-dose naltrexone or acamprosate. In phases III and IV, the alternative medication type at its lower and higher doses, respectively, was administered with continuation of the phase II medication. Predetermined behavioral, performance, and pharmacological criteria determined significant pathological change from baseline (phase I). Case records were reviewed. Criterion-significant increases in symptoms from baseline with monotherapy included nervousness and fatigue with 3 g acamprosate and somnolence and headache with 50 mg and 100 mg naltrexone, respectively. Combined treatment at various doses evinced anger, depression, somnolence, nervousness, diarrhea, and headache. Notably, for all but one subject who dropped out, increased symptoms did not produce any remarkable clinical deterioration. Naltrexone administration significantly increased plasma acetylhomotaurine (i.e., acamprosate) levels, presumably by prolonging gastric emptying. The level of neither plasma acetylhomotaurine nor plasma 6-β naltrexol (i.e., naltrexone's metabolite) predicted adverse-event frequency. Naltrexone and acamprosate, both alone and in combination at the tested doses, were behaviorally and pharmacologically safe. Adverse events were infrequent, were of moderate intensity, and resolved with reassurance and symptomatic treatment. More side effects were noted with the combination of medications than with either medication alone. Naltrexone administration significantly increased plasma acamprosate levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-293
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Clinical Psychopharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2003

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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