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.