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Epilepsy drug shows promise in study on alcohol dependence

November 5, 2013
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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A 150-patient placebo-controlled trial has found positive effects on drinking outcomes from use of the medication gabapentin among patients with alcohol dependence. Researchers at The Scripps Research Institute, where the study was conducted, believe that gabapentin could also improve patient mood and sleep in ways that currently approved medications for alcohol dependence don’t.

Gabapentin, which normalizes levels of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain’s amygdala region, is used mainly to treat epilepsy and neuropathic pain. In this study, patients received 900 or 1,800 mg of gabapentin or placebo over a 12-week period. Results showed that the high-dose group refrained from heavy drinking twice as frequently as the placebo group (45% vs. 23%), and complete abstinence occurred in 17% of the high-dose group and 4% of the placebo group. The lower-dose gabapentin group showed a moderate level of benefit with regard to drinking outcomes.

“Gabapentin’s effect on drinking outcomes is at least as large or greater than those of existing FDA-approved treatments,” Barbara J. Mason, co-director of the research institute’s Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research, said in a Nov. 4 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.”

For the latter reasons, Mason and her colleagues believe that gabapentin could ultimately prove to be a more attractive medication option than the present three approved medications for alcohol dependence: disulfiram, naltrexone and acamprosate.   

Study results were published Nov. 4 in JAMA Internal Medicine.    

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