A dozen studies have been published showing that opiate antagonists suppress alcohol drinking in animals, and two independent placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trials of naltrexone found this agent was associated with decreased alcohol craving and consumption in alcohol-dependent patients. Nalmefene is a newer opiate antagonist that has a number of potential advantages over naltrexone in the treatment of alcoholism, including no dose-dependent association with liver toxicity and more effective binding to central opiate receptors. Consequently, a double-blind pilot study was conducted to gather preliminary data on the safety and efficacy of nalmefene for reducing alcohol consumption in alcohol-dependent subjects. Twenty-one alcohol-dependent subjects meeting admission criteria were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of double-blind treatment with 40 mg nalmefene, 10 mg nalmefene, or placebo, resulting in 7 patients/treatment group. Nalmefene was well tolerated, with no serious adverse drug reactions. The 40 mg group had a significantly lower rate of relapse (p < or = 0.05), and a greater increase in the number of abstinent days/week (p < or = 0.09), than the other treatment groups. A significant decrease in the number of drinks/drinking day was noted for both nalmefene groups (p < or = 0.04), but not for placebo. These results were supported by parallel decreases in ALT. These pilot data provide preliminary support for the hypotheses that nalmefene can be safely given to alcoholics, and that nalmefene may have a role in reducing alcohol consumption and preventing relapse, particularly at the 40 mg level. A full-scale study is underway to confirm these preliminary findings.