Problem drinkers in the United Kingdom may now receive a prescription drug said to reduce alcohol consumption by 61 percent, in combination with therapy.

Marketed by Danish pharmaceutical Lunbeck as Selincro, nalmefene was approved in the UK in March. Tuesday it became available to patients by prescription. Regulators approved the drug for the "reduction of alcohol consumption in adult patients with alcohol dependence without physical withdrawal symptoms and who do not require immediate detoxification."

The drug might prove more attractive to those with alcohol dependence disorder given its promise to help drinkers "cut back," whereas other drugs on the market compel patients to quit altogether. The drug works by modulating the brain's reward mechanism to reduce cravings for alcohol while lessening the reward.

A clinical trial of the drug in the UK showed a 61 percent reduction in alcohol consumption among subjects, from nearly 13 drinks per day down to five. Patients who received the drug in combination with therapy reduced "heavy drinking days" from 23 days per month to nine days per month, after six months of treatment. The drug is an opioid receptor antagonist developed in the early 1970s used primarily for alcohol abuse but also for other addicitons, such as pathological gambling and shopping.

"The people who we saw in the study were not stereotypical alcoholics, most of them had families and jobs," Dr. David Collier, of Barts and The London School of Medicine, told the media. "For the majority, only they and those closest to them would have known that they had a problem with drinking."

Researchers said the drug would help social drinkers to maintain an even keel.

"The results of the studies suggest that nalmefene, in combination with counseling, is a potentially helpful new option for the many people like them in the UK who need some assistance in cutting down their drinking."

The problem of alcohol dependence comes to head every year during drinking holidays like New Year's Eve, when the military deploys medical personnel to major cities to treat revelers for severe alcohol intoxication. During 2009 and 2010, UK hospitals admitted one million patients for alcohol-related conditions or injuries, with an additional 14,886 admissions for alcohol-related liver problems too. Hospitalizations for alcohol-related problems more than doubled between 2002 and 2012 for those under age 30, with an increase of 1,000 per year for that age group.