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NIH Study: Gabapentin May Be Useful for Treating Alcohol Dependence

Anticonvulsant drug scores in placebo-controlled trial (November 4)

The generic anticonvulsant drug gabapentin has shown promise as an effective treatment for alcohol dependence, based on the results of a 150-patient clinical trial of the medication.

Conducted by researchers supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the study found that alcohol-dependent patients using gabapentin were more likely to stop drinking or to refrain from heavy drinking than were those given placebo. Gabapentin is widely prescribed to treat pain conditions and epilepsy.

A report of the study, led by Barbara J. Mason, PhD, of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., appears in the Nov. 4 edition of JAMA Internal Medicine.

Mason and her colleagues randomly assigned alcohol-dependent patients to receive a moderate or high dose of gabapentin (900 mg or 1,800 mg, respectively) or placebo. During 12 weeks of treatment, patients receiving the 1,800-mg dose were twice as likely to refrain from heavy drinking compared with those given placebo (45% vs. 23%, respectively) and were four times as likely to stop drinking altogether (17% vs. 4%). Subjects receiving gabapentin also reported improved sleep and mood, and fewer alcohol cravings. The drug appeared to be well tolerated, with few side effects.

Participants who received the 900-mg dose of gabapentin saw similar but less dramatic improvements in their drinking levels, sleep, mood, and cravings compared with those given the 1,800-mg dose.

“The results of the study on gabapentin showed similar or greater positive outcomes when compared to existing FDA-approved treatments for alcohol dependence,” Mason said. “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.”

Source: NIH; November 4, 2013.

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