BACKGROUND: GABAergic anticonvulsants have been recommended for the treatment of alcohol dependence and the prevention of relapse. Several studies have demonstrated topiramate's efficacy in improving drinking behaviour and maintaining abstinence. The objective of the present open-label controlled study was to assess efficacy and tolerability of low-dose topiramate as adjunctive treatment in alcohol dependence during the immediate post-detoxification period and during a 16-week follow-up period after alcohol withdrawal. METHODS: Following a 7-10 day inpatient alcohol detoxification protocol, 90 patients were assigned to receive either topiramate (up to 75 mg per day) in addition to psychotherapeutic treatment (n = 30) or psychotherapy alone (n = 60). Symptoms of depression and anxiety, as well as craving, were monitored for 4-6 weeks immediately following detoxification on an inpatient basis. Thereafter, both groups were followed as outpatients at a weekly basis for another 4 months in order to monitor their course and abstinence from alcohol. RESULTS: A marked improvement in depressive (p < 0.01), anxiety (p < 0.01), and obsessive-compulsive drinking symptoms (p < 0.01) was observed over the consecutive assessments in both study groups. However, individuals on topiramate fared better than controls (p < 0.01) during inpatient treatment. Moreover, during the 4-month follow up period, relapse rate was lower among patients who received topiramate (66.7%) compared to those who received no adjunctive treatment (85.5%), (p = 0.043). Time to relapse in the topiramate augmentation group was significantly longer compared to the control group (log rank test, p = 0.008). Thus, median duration of abstinence was 4 weeks for the non-medicated group whereas it reached 10 weeks for the topiramate group. No serious side effects of topiramate were recorded throughout the study. CONCLUSIONS: Low-dose topiramate as an adjunct to psychotherapeutic treatment is well tolerated and effective in reducing alcohol craving, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety, present during the early phase of alcohol withdrawal. Furthermore, topiramate considerably helps to abstain from drinking during the first 16-week post-detoxification period.