Alcohol use disorders (AUDs) are common health problems that have a significant impact on society as a whole. There is a need for more effective treatments. In the last two decades, evidence for the efficacy of pharmacological approaches to treatment has increased. Although it has long been clear that medications are needed for the treatment of the alcohol withdrawal syndrome, the important role of medications in the longer-term treatment of AUDs has only recently been appreciated. In particular, naltrexone, acamprosate and topiramate appear to be efficacious treatments, especially when combined with psychosocial interventions that emphasise compliance with medication and encourage treatment retention. The goal of this review is to bring together the existing literature supporting the usefulness of pharmacological treatments for the alcohol withdrawal syndrome, for longer-term treatment of AUDs, and for comorbid AUDs and other psychiatric disorders. In addition, opportunities for future research will be identified.