Behavior therapy combined with medications is the best approach to reduce social costs of health care among alcohol-dependent individuals.

Researchers looked at the economic impact of combined alcohol dependency treatments, including the treatment costs and the economic costs of other health care use including arrests and motor vehicle accidents.

The researchers found that people who were alcohol dependent and received medical management and a combination of acamprosate (Campral) and naltrexone medications saved more than $3,800 in the median cost of alcohol treatment, other health care costs, arrest costs and motor vehicle accident costs compared to those who just received medical management and a placebo.

“It’s important to understand the effect of alcohol interventions on future social costs,” said Gary Zarkin, Ph.D., vice president of the Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice Research Division at RTI and the paper’s lead author.

“Our study suggests that the combined alcohol dependency therapies have additional long-term societal benefits in terms of reduced health care usage, arrests and car accidents.”

The three-year study analyzed data from approximately 800 patients who participated in the nine alcohol dependence treatments in COMBINE (Combined Pharmacotherapies and Behavioral Interventions Study).

Previously, the study team estimated the cost-effectiveness of the COMBINE interventions at the end of 16 weeks of treatment. Clinical results for COMBINE were published in the May 2006 issue of JAMA.

“A strength of our study is that we were able to take advantage of the statistical design of the COMBINE clinical trial, which previous researchers were not able to do,” Zarkin said.

“But more research needs to be done to understand the magnitude of social cost savings associated with alcohol dependency treatment.”

Alcohol abuse is the third leading preventable cause of death, and in 1998, according to a report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the estimated societal cost of alcohol abuse in the United States was $184 billion.

The study is published in the journal Medical Care.

Source: RTI International