A new study by addiction experts at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that patients who suffer from both depression and alcohol dependence benefitted more from a medication combination of an antidepressant, sertraline, and naltrexone, an FDA-approved treatment for heavy drinking, compared to either medication alone or placebo. During a 14-week treatment trial, the medication combination produced high abstinence rates as well as reduction in depressive symptoms. 

The finding signals an important advance in the treatment of depressed patients with alcohol dependence; the co-occurrence of these disorders is common in clinical practice, yet antidepressants alone are frequently not sufficient for reducing excessive drinking in these patients.

When depression and alcohol disorders occur together, each of the individual disorders often worsens the other, and patients lose hope for recovery. Combining sertraline and naltrexone could be a practical approach for these patients because both are FDA approved and currently available.

The study was conducted by Helen M. Pettinati, PhD, David W. Oslin, MD, Kyle M. Kampman, MD, William D. Dundon, PhD, Hu Xie, MS, Thea L. Gallis, BA, Charles A. Dackis, MD, Charles P. O’Brien, MD, PhD, from the Center for the Studies of Addiction, in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and Pfizer Inc. U.S. Pharmaceuticals Group, who donated sertraline and matching placebo. These agencies had no role in the design, conduct, or reporting of this study.

The study is available online from the American Journal of Psychiatry.


Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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