Excessive alcohol use is one of the most pressing public health issues in the United States. Some 88,000 Americans died of alcohol-related causes every year between 2006 and 2010, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s far higher than the latest numbers of annual deaths from drug overdoses (64,000), breast cancer (42,000) or prostate cancer (28,000). Surveys suggest that more than 15 million American adults suffer from alcohol dependence or abuse within a given year.
Numerous treatment options exist for people who drink to an unhealthy degree, including 12-step programs and inpatient rehabilitation centers. Many patients and health-care providers are less likely to be aware that medications can also help treat alcohol use disorder. (That’s the term now used by medical professionals for people with recurrent problems related to drinking.) Three such medications have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.