What is the New Drug For Alcoholism?

Medically Reviewed By Kayla Loibl | Last Edited : November 05, 
| 4 Sources

Nalmefene, Can It Cure Alcoholism?

Although not even yet licensed, this new drug for alcoholism has many talking of a cure for alcoholism

Because alcohol dependence is a significant public health issue in both the USA and Europe, and more largely throughout the globe, many has been delighted to know about a new cure for alcoholism. It is a terrible condition for the sufferer and those who care about him or her. What makes matters worse is that there is no widely 'accepted' alcoholism cure.

So alcohol dependence has to be managed. What this entails for the alcoholic is lifelong abstinence with the threat of relapse stalking his or her every move.

However, there is in development, a promising new drug for alcoholism.

Nalmefene is an experimental drug that falls under the category of opioid antagonist. (Another opioid antagonist, naltrexone, is used in the Sinclair Method, a method said by some to cure alcoholism)

Specific scientific studies are being undertaken by several research groups to establish the efficacy and safety of Nalmefene in treating alcoholism.

It is also being tested as a treatment for other types of impulse control disorders such as kleptomania and pathological gambling.

Nalmefene - The Background

Nalmefene, the first medication approved by the European Medicines Agency for diminishing alcohol consumption among adult alcoholics, was developed by Lundbeck A/S, a Denmark-based pharmaceutical company that specializes in the development, manufacture, distribution and sale of medications that are licensed for neurological and psychiatric disorders.

Depending on the results of the ongoing trials, regulating agencies in Europe can provide clearance and approval for the use of this innovative alcoholism medication by 2012. This means, if cleared it will be available for doctors to prescribe and patients to obtain from pharmacies from this date.

If, as expected, they get the go-ahead, it will be the first new drug for alcoholism licensed in the last 15 years.

Naltrexone vs. Nalmefene

Naltrexone, which, as mentioned above, is another drug used in treating alcoholism, is used to prevent relapse in those who have stopped drinking altogether. In fact it is only licensed to be given to alcoholics who have ceased drinking.(Although naltrexone is also used by some who have not stopped drinking, as part of the Sinclair Method (without FDA approval))

In contrast, Nalmefene is specifically designed to reduce alcohol consumption without having to require alcohol abstinence which is a core element in current alcoholism treatment programs (e.g. the 12 step program).

This means that the primary objective is the reduction of alcohol consumption and not a complete cessation of drinking.

Many who work in the alcoholism treatment 'industry' have misgivings about a 'magic pill' for alcoholism, and believe it to be far too complex a condition to be cured by a medication.

The general consensus among those working in the alcoholism field is that behavioral, environmental and psychosocial changes have to be made by the individual in order to control his or her alcoholism. An alcoholic cure is a pipe-dream (at least in their opinion).

Advantages Of Nalmefene

A recent treatment option in alcohol dependence treatment, Nalmefene provides an innovative way in treating the disease and resolves the known downsides of existing alcoholism treatment programs. It eliminates the need for alcohol abstinence for patients and helps them control their cravings and reduce their alcohol consumption.

One of the main strengths of this drug appears be that it would encourage more alcoholics to get treatment for their dependence.

Many alcohol dependents are unwilling to do something about their problem because they cannot envisage a life without alcohol. Nalmefene removes this obstacle, since it does not require total abstinence.

Another significant edge of Nalmefene over other treatment alternatives is that the drug will only be used according to the specific needs of the patient. What this means is that when an alcoholic is planning to drink, he or she will take nalmefene about an hour before. If an individual does not plan to drink then there is no need to take his or her medication.

This is in contrast to the existing treatment programs in which a patient is required to undergo continuous medication in order to maintain sobriety.

Other advantages of nalmefene include:

  • longer half-life- it remaains effective within the body for longer than naltrexone
  • low-level liver toxicity- it does not impact on the liver in the same way naltrexone does, so is a good alternative for those suffering from alcoholic liver damage
  • high oral bio-availability - simply put, this means it is absorbed easily into the body when swallowed

When will Nalmefene be Available?

Initial results of experiments and scientific studies indicate that this opiate antagonist show great potential in treating alcohol and other forms of addiction.

The use of Nalmefene in alcoholism treatment does not seem to present any of the side effects that are usually observed in other opioid blockers or antagonists. Results also show that nalmefene has little potential for abuse.

Researchers are now considering the possibility of using this new drug for alcoholism as an alternative to the current abstinence model on offer.

While the drug is initially demonstrating fast-acting characteristics, medical experts and researchers are still concerned with the high number of cases of relapse (relapse here means a return to the drinking habits that existed before the nalmefene therapy started).

This is despite the fact that it is being used in conjunction with other support therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and group sessions. There is still much work to be done and its licensing is far from a certainty.

New Drug for Alcoholism

new drug for alcoholism

If you or someone close to you wants help and advice on quitting drinking then take a look at the following pages:

Lead Writer/Reviewer : Kayla Loibl

Licensed Medical Health Professional 


I am a Mental Health Counselor who is licensed in both New York (LMHC) and North Carolina (LCMHC). I have been working in the Mental Health field since 2015. I have worked in a residential setting, an outpatient program and an inpatient addictions program. I began working in Long Island, NY and then in Guelph, Ontario after moving to Canada. Read More


NCBI. Risks and Benefits of Nalmefene in the Treatment of Adult Alcohol Dependence: A Systematic Literature Review and Meta-Analysis of Published and Unpublished Double-Blind Randomized Controlled Trials. December 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4687857/

NCBI. Nalmefene: a new approach to the treatment of alcohol dependence. August 8, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4133028/

PubMed. Nalmefene for the management of alcohol dependence: review on its pharmacology, mechanism of action and meta-analysis on its clinical efficacy. November 12, 2016. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27842940/

BMC Medicine. Evaluation in alcohol use disorders – insights from the nalmefene experience. August 18, 2016. https://bmcmedicine.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12916-016-0664-9

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