Thousands of lives could be saved across the EU every year if therapy was used more frequently in alcohol-dependent patients, according to a new study.

At the moment less than 10% of people dependent on alcohol in the EU are offered treatment with cognitive/behavioural therapy or drugs, but boosting that to 40 per cent would save 11,700 lives each year, according to a paper published in European Neuropsychopharmacology (February issue).

Alcohol dependency leads to the deaths of around 120,000 Europeans aged 15 to 64, and accounts for one in seven deaths among men and one in 13 among women, say the authors of the study, led by Professor Jürgen Rehm of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health at the University of Toronto in Canada.

"Given the substantial health burden in Europe attributable to alcohol consumption and, in particular, to alcohol dependence, current alcohol policy prevention measures should be supplemented with measures to expand treatment coverage," said Rehm.

Treatment methods based on motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioural therapy and pharmacological treatment have been shown to be effective in reducing alcohol intakes and should be used in addition to proven measures such as increasing price, banning advertising, or restricting availability of alcohol.

"The order of magnitude of potential gains in mortality [with treatment] is comparable to potential gains from [these] other interventions," write the researchers.

The research was supported by an unrestricted grant from Lundbeck, which is gearing up to launch opioid system modulator Selincro (nalmefene) in Europe later this year after getting a positive opinion from the European Medicines Agency's Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) in December.

The authors note that drug therapy for alcohol dependency is used in only a minority of cases, and almost never in community or general practice settings.

"Studies examining the applicability of pharmacological approaches in non-specialised settings should be a priority for future research," they note.