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Clinical Trial Finds Gabapentin Effective for Treating Alcohol Dependence

Update Date: Nov 04, 2013 04:10 PM EST

Gabapentin is currently a FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) approved drug for treating epilepsy and certain kinds of pain. In a new clinical trial, researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of this drug in treating people with alcohol dependence. In the small trial, they found that the drug helped curb alcohol cravings and reduced the amount of alcohol the participants consumed.

For this study, the research team from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) recruited 160 patients. The study was a double-blind study, which meant that the health care professionals did not know which drugs they were giving to the patients and the patients did not know which drug they received. The patients were randomly assigned to three groups. The first group received a 900mg dose of the drug, the second group was given the 1,800mg dose and the last group had the placebo. All of the patients received care for 12 weeks.

When the researchers compared the group of people taking the 1,800mg dose to the people taking the placebo, they found that 45 percent and 23 percent respectively refrained from heavy drinking. When it came to refraining entirely, 17 percent of the high dose drug group was successfully in comparison to the four percent from the placebo group. The researchers noted that people taking the 900mg dose experienced intermediate benefits from the drug.

"Gabapentin's effect on drinking outcomes is at least as large or greater than those of existing FDA-approved treatments," said Barbara J. Mason, Pearson Family Professor and co-director of the Pearson Center for Alcoholism and Addiction Research at TSRI, who led the new research. "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."

The researchers reported that none of the patients experienced any side effects from taking gabapentin. The drug was also effective in reducing the total number of drinks consumed and the number of cravings. The drug helped with depression and sleepiness.

"I think that we can now have confidence in the pharmacological effect of this drug," Mason said. "I'm excited about the possibility that now more people will get treatment. We really need to do more about treating alcohol dependence."

Currently, the FDA-approved treatments for alcohol dependence are disulfiram, sold as Antabuse and naltrexone, sold as ReVia and Vivitrol only treat alcohol cravings. These therapies do not help with anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and other withdrawal symptoms.

The study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine

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