SAN DIEGO, Ca. (CBS Sacramento) – According to a new study by scientists at The Scripps Research Institute, a drug that is normally used to treat epilepsy and neuropathic pain can be used safely to treat alcoholism.

“Gabapentin gives doctors a new option that is not only inexpensive but is at least as effective as drugs already approved for alcoholism,” Barbara J. Mason, co-director of the Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research at Scripps, and the study’s leader told the San Diego Union Tribune. “Gabapentin is the only drug that improves sleep and mood in those trying to quit or reduce drinking.”

Currently, gabapentin has not been approved to treat alcoholism, but doctors can use their own judgment to prescribe it for that purpose.

Over a 12-week period, researchers gave 150 people who were trying to beat alcoholism either a placebo or gabapentin in doses of 900 or 1,800 milligrams.

Researchers found that participants who received gabapentin in its highest dose were most likely to avoid drinking or even completely quit. Out of the high-dose group, 45 percent were found to avoid heavy drinking compared to 23 percent of those who received the placebo. Seventeen percent of participants within the high-dose group were able to completely stop drinking compared to only the 4 percent from the placebo group.

“This study provides convincing evidence of gabapentin’s efficacy,” Dr. Michael Plopper, chief medical officer of Sharp Behavioral Health Services said. “This is the first placebo-controlled, double-blind study that I’m aware of, of gabapentin for alcohol dependence.  Gabapentin is a good choice because it’s safe, especially in the doses tested, and doctors are familiar with it.”

Mason thinks one good reason this drug would help with alcoholism is that “it produces a calming effect, which helps those withdrawing.”

Mason also led a study back in 2012 in which gabapentin was also found useful in treating marijuana dependency.

A commentary published on the study stated that “gabapentin has a strong potential for treating alcohol dependence, but lack of FDA approval hinders its use. A clinical trial might be needed to get approval.”

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, over 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health states that more Americans are dependent on or abuse alcohol than all illegal drugs combined.

The study was published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Journal.


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