Drug Used to Treat Epilepsy Can Help People with Alcoholism: Study

The drug gabapentin, used to treat epilepsy and some types of pain, can help people with alcoholism quit drinking, a new study concludes.

The 12-week study of 150 alcohol-dependent participants found gabapentin decreased the number of days people drank heavily, and at least tripled the percentage of people who were able to stop drinking altogether, compared with those receiving a placebo. The drug also reduced alcohol craving and improved mood and sleep quality, Forbes reports.

After 12 weeks, 4 percent of those receiving a placebo were completely abstinent, compared with 11 percent of those receiving 900 milligrams of gabapentin, and 17 percent of those receiving 1,800 milligrams of gabapentin. Among those receiving a placebo, 22 percent reported no heavy drinking days (more than four drinks a day for women, and five for men), compared with 30 percent taking 800 milligrams of gabapentin, and 45 percent taking 1,800 milligrams.

The study appears in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Gabapentin is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating epilepsy and neuropathic pain, a complex, chronic pain state that is usually accompanied by tissue injury.

“Gabapentin’s effect on drinking outcomes is at least as large or greater than those of existing FDA-approved treatments,” lead researcher Barbara J. Mason of The Scripps Research Institute said in a news release. “Plus it’s the only medication shown to improve sleep and mood in people who are quitting or reducing their drinking, and it’s already widely used in primary care—that’s an appealing combination.”

There are currently several drugs treatments available for alcohol dependence, but they have limitations, the researchers said. Disulfiram (Antabuse) and naltrexone (ReVia, Vivitrol), are relatively ineffective against anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and other withdrawal symptoms. “They are also, by design, somewhat unpleasant—which often discourages patients from using them,” the release notes.

Acamprosate (Campral), a newer drug approved for alcoholism treatment, has not been shown to improve mood or sleep, the researchers said.

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    Susan John

    February 19, 2015 at 1:17 PM

    When I went through treatment 19 years ago, behavior modification was a big component in the recovery process. Until people can respond differently to their alcoholic thinking, no amount of any anti-anxiety medication will make a difference. In fact, I drank on anti-anxiety medications. I was in mental pain and until I could find an antidote for that I drank to ease the pain and my chattering mind. I believe people have to find a replacement for their addiction. In my case I surrounded myself with people like me, established a relationship with a Higher Power and tried to pass these things along to others – the precepts of Alcoholics Anonymous. Pages 86 and 87 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous provide us with instructions on how to live our lives in recovery. Gabapentin may work for some; but when we are ready, replacing the “darkness” with “light” is the only way.

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    Shawn Beall

    November 8, 2013 at 11:44 AM

    I tried gabapentin about two years ago. I took large amounts always as prescribed and it did nothing. As a recovering alcoholic with long term soberiety in the past, 7 yrs then 5 years both ending in relapse I can say is that if you want to drink you will no matter what meds they give you. Alcoholics Anonymous is the only way for me and countless others. I went to talk to other women with drinking problems ALL taking this med plus others and not one of them were sober longer than a few days. The only thing they didn’t like was AA. Each had their own reasons but what it really boiled down to is they didn’t want to stop drinking completely.
    If you asked why I relapsed is because I stopped going to meetings. Plain and simple. If I live day to day the AA way I will not drink. It isn’t easy and somedays I count the minutes till I can just go to bed and start tomorrow but I haven’t had a drink in 17 months and I haven’t had to take a pill or shot( Vivitrol) in over 2 years.
    For those people that these drugs work for FABULOUS!
    continue your journey. For those who need something else try AA. Sometimes it takes time to get sober. Don’t beat yourself up. I was told the only thing you can do wrong in Alcoholics Anonymous is not come back.

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