Today, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced results of a recent study showing that gabapentin may be an effective treatment for alcohol dependence. Gabapentin is an anti-convulsant medication that is already widely prescribed to treat epilepsy and pain. The results of this study appear in the November 4, 2013 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.
In Connecticut, there are about 12,500 DUI arrests annually (~1.2 million in the U.S, 2011 data). Drunk driving fatalities cost Connecticut taxpayers $634 million in subsidies. Drunk driving cost the U.S. $132 billion a year. Alcohol use disorders affect about 18 million Americans.
Currently, there are three FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration]-approved medications for the treatment of alcohol dependence:
- disulfram (an older drug that blocks the metabolism of alcohol and causes nausea);
- acamprosate (helps support abstinence and can ease symptoms of withdrawal); and
- naltrexone (helps people reduce heavy drinking).
“The results of the study on gabapentin showed similar or greater positive outcomes when compared to existing FDA-approved treatments for alcohol dependence,” said Barbara J. Mason, Ph.D. of the Scripps Research Institute. “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.”
This recent study found that alcohol dependent patients using gabapentin were more likely to stop drinking or refrain from heavy drinking than those taking placebo. More specifically, alcohol dependent patients were randomly assigned to receive a moderate or high dose of gabapentin or a placebo. Patients receiving the high dose were twice as likely to refrain from heavy drinking (45% vs. 23%) and four times as likely to stop drinking altogether (17% vs. 4%), compared to placebo. Patients receiving gabapentin also reported improved sleep and mood and fewer alcohol cravings. Patients who received the moderate dose of gabapentin saw similar but less dramatic improvements in their drinking levels, sleep, mood, and cravings when compared to the high dose.
“Gabapentin adds to the list of existing medications that have shown promise in treating alcohol dependence,” said Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). “We will continue to pursue research to expand the menu of treatment options available for alcoholism in the hopes of reaching more people.”
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