Why Doctors Are Testing An Epilepsy Drug For Alcoholism | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

NPR : News

Filed Under:

Why Doctors Are Testing An Epilepsy Drug For Alcoholism

In the hunt for new ways to help people fight alcoholism, doctors are studying gabapentin, a generic drug that's commonly used to treat epilepsy and fibromyalgia.

In a 12-week clinical trial conducted by the Scripps Research Institute, people taking taking gabapentin were much better at reducing their alcohol intake than those who got a placebo. The research, involving 150 people, was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

All the volunteers enrolled in the trial received counseling. Some took placebo pills, the rest got either 900 milligrams or 1,800 milligrams of gabapentin each day. People taking a higher dose of the drug refrained from heavy drinking twice as often as the placebo group, and practiced complete abstinence four times as often.

The results were published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Psychiatrist Barbara J. Mason, who led the study, says gabapentin appears to work because it eases the most common withdrawal symptoms. "Gabapentin improved sleep and mood in people who were cutting down or quitting drinking," she tells Shots. Sleeplessness and anxiety are often what cause people to regress and start drinking again, she says.

Another factor in gabapentin's favor, she says, is that it isn't broken down by the liver, "an organ that's often damaged in people with alcohol dependence." Of three FDA-approved drugs for alcoholism, two pose potential liver risks, she says. Gabapentin passes from the blood through the kidney and into urine pretty much unchanged.

Like any drug, gabapentin has potential side effects. Drowsiness, nausea and blurred vision are some. And the drug hasn't been approved for treatment of alcohol dependence.

Gabapentin, sold under the brand name Neurontin, has a bit of a rocky history. In the early 2000s, Pfizer and its Parke-Davis unit got in trouble for pushing the drug for a variety of unapproved uses.

But Mason says the fact that her work is funded by the NIH, plus the fact that it's a generic formulation, will distance her work from that scandal.

"It's not magic, and making a big behavioral change is hard work," she says. But to ignore a drug that appears effective, she says, '"is not taking advantage of all the tools in the toolbox."

Still, the drug hasn't been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in treatment of alcohol dependence and there's no sign it will be anytime soon.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

WAMU 88.5

For Anniversary Of President's Death, Ford's Theatre Focuses On Mrs. Lincoln

The very theater where President Lincoln was assassinated 150 years ago is remembering the woman who felt that great loss most accutely — The Widow Lincoln.

NPR

College Life Doesn't Have To Mean Crummy Cuisine, Says Dorm Room Chef

Sick of dining hall pizza, public health student Emily Hu taught herself how to cook — even with no oven. Now she's hoping to inspire her peers to pick up cooking skills and healthier eating habits.
NPR

Democrat Seeks To Authorize Operations Against ISIS

Rep. Adam Schiff of California plans to introduce a bill to allow congressional authorization of military operations against ISIS. NPR's Rachel Martin talks to Rep. Schiff about the new legislation.
NPR

In Sweden, Remote-Control Airport Is A Reality

Sweden is the first country in the world to use new technology to land passenger airplanes remotely. At an airport in a tiny town, flights are guided by operators sitting miles away.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.