Co-occurring schizophrenia spectrum disorder and International Statistical Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision cocaine dependence present a particularly destructive constellation that is often difficult to treat. Both conditions raise dopamine transmission effects in the brain. Traditional neuroleptics block dopamine receptors, whereas aripiprazole modulates dopamine activity as an agonist/antagonist. We tested whether dopamine modulation is superior to dopamine blocking in dual-diagnosis patients.Methods
In a randomized, double-blind, comparison design, cocaine-dependent schizophrenic subjects actively using cocaine received either aripiprazole or perphenazine in an 8-week trial. Primary outcome targeted cocaine-free urine sample proportions, whereas cocaine craving scores were a secondary variable.Results
Subjects (N = 44) randomized (n = 22 per group) did not differ at baseline. The proportion of cocaine-free urine samples did not differ by medication group. Contrasting weeks 3 to 5 vs 6 to 8 revealed significant late reductions in craving with aripiprazole. On the respective 5-point subscales, craving intensity decreased by 1.53 ± 0.43 (P < 0.0005) points, craving frequency by 1.4 ± 0.40 (P > 0.0004) points, and craving duration by 1.76 ± 0.44 (P > 0.0001) points.Conclusions
A drug effect of aripiprazole on craving items appeared at week 6 of treatment, on average, and was not seen before that length of drug exposure. The data suggest that dopamine modulation reduces cocaine cravings but requires an acclimation period. To understand the mechanism of action better, a trial of depot aripiprazole may be useful. Clinically, a reduction in craving potentially offers a clearer focus for ongoing behavioral treatment. It may also offer a longer-term treatment effect with respect to the severity of relapse.