A new study finds two medications that can help people quit drinking are rarely used.
The drugs, naltrexone and acamprosate, could be helping many thousands of people, the researchers say.
The drugs reduce alcohol cravings. They have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating alcoholism for more than a decade, The New York Times reports.
Many doctors are not aware of the drugs' usefulness, or question their effectiveness, the article notes.
The researchers reviewed data on about 23,000 people in 122 studies. They concluded that in order to prevent one person from returning to drinking, the number needed to take acamprosate was 12, and the number needed to take naltrexone was 20.
In contrast, large studies of widely-used drugs such as cholesterol-lowering statins have found that 25 to more than 100 people need treatment to prevent one heart event.
The study evaluated the effectiveness of acamprosate and naltrexone in combination with behavior interventions. The findings are published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
"These drugs are really underused quite a bit, and our findings show that they can help thousands and thousands of people," said lead author Dr. Daniel E. Jonas of the University of North Carolina. "They're not blockbuster. They're not going to work for everybody. But they can make a difference for a lot of people."
Fewer than one-third of people with alcohol use disorders receive any treatment, and less than 10 percent receive medications to help reduce alcohol consumption, according to a University of North Carolina press release.
"There are many studies that have tried to show whether certain medications can help with alcohol use disorders, but it is a lot of information to digest and many providers do not know what works or doesn't work," Dr. Jonas said. "When you synthesize all the evidence, it shows pretty clearly that some medications do work."