CNS Drugs

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 213–237 | Cite as

Pharmacotherapy of Dual Substance Abuse and Dependence

  • George A. KennaEmail author
  • Darci M. Nielsen
  • Patricia Mello
  • Alison Schiesl
  • Robert M. Swift
Review Article


The US FDA has approved a limited number of treatments for alcohol, nicotine and opioid dependence; however, no treatments for other abused drugs such as marijuana, cocaine or methamphetamine are approved. This review focuses on research into drug pharmacotherapies, particularly single-drug therapies, for substance abuse and dependence contributing to the most important dual substance use disorders (SUDs). Given the implications of poly-substance abuse, it is essential that clinicians and researchers be aware of potential pharmacotherapies for the treatment of dual SUDs.

A substantial number of patients abuse more than one drug concurrently, complicating the treatment of SUD and leaving clinicians with few FDA-approved drug options for their patients. In this era of evidence-based medicine, such patients are typically treated with therapeutically proven medications, but in ways that are outside the scope of a drug’s original indication by the FDA. Such ‘off-label’ prescribing has become an important therapeutic strategy for practitioners seeking treatments for other diseases in subpopulations such as paediatrics and gerontology or for medical conditions such as oncology or mental illness. Similarly, the information that most clinicians use to make their decisions for treating patients abusing multiple drugs stems from trials treating a single SUD, anecdotal experiences from their own practice or that of their colleagues, or single-case studies reported in the literature.

The existing evidence suggests there are few treatments for SUDs that confer significant reductions in substance use across a broad patient population. Moreover, even fewer clinical efficacy trials have been conducted that provide evidence of therapeutic benefit for these drugs. Recognising the difficulty in making the proper drug choice for facilitating maximum treatment success, this review highlights the single drugs or drug combinations that show some potential for treating dual SUDs. This review finds strongest support for the use of disulfiram for treatment of alcohol and cocaine dependence (with or without concomitant methadone maintenance), baclofen for alcohol and cocaine dependence (but not opioid-dependent cocaine users), tiagabine for cocaine dependence in methadone-maintained patients, and topiramate for alcohol, nicotine and cocaine dependence. While ondansetron and olanzapine show some efficacy in treating alcohol and cocaine dependence, more research is needed to better delineate the subpopulation in which these drugs may provide their maximum effect.


Nicotine Cocaine Olanzapine Topiramate Alcohol Dependence 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



No sources of funding were used to assist in the preparation of this review.

Dr Robert Swift has acted as a consultant to Pfizer, Ortho-McNeill, Forest and Alkermes, has received honoraria from Pfizer and Forest, and has received grants from Pfizer, Ortho-McNeill and Forest. The other authors have no conflicts of interest that are directly relevant to the content of this review.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • George A. Kenna
    • 1
    Email author
  • Darci M. Nielsen
    • 1
  • Patricia Mello
    • 2
  • Alison Schiesl
    • 2
  • Robert M. Swift
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Community Health, Center for Alcohol and Addiction StudiesBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.College of PharmacyUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA
  3. 3.Veterans Administration Medical CenterProvidenceUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychiatry and Human BehaviorBrown Medical SchoolProvidenceUSA

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