To treat epilepsy, a brain disorder that creates unpredictable seizures, most sufferers are given gabapentin, a pharmaceutical drug also known as neurontin. New study results are now showing that gabapentin can also be effective when given to alcoholics who are working to stay sober.
What is Gabapentin?
This drug works for epilepsy because it stabilizes electrical activity in the human brain. Gabapentin’s chemical composition binds to calcium channels located on nerve cells on the spinal cord and within various areas of the brain itself. By altering the nerve cells, the brain releases different types and levels of neurotransmitters, which then send varying messages to other parts of the brain.
In the brain of someone with epilepsy, this chemical alteration can stop seizures from occurring. The part of the brain that sent messages that made the rest of the brain and body feel that a seizure was necessary are no longer sending that message. Gabapentin seems to slow down the release of glutamate, a neurotransmitter naturally found in the human brain.
Much like the release of dopamine or serotonin from exercise that makes you feel happy and more alert, glutamate also has an impact on the whole person. Mainly glutamate is in charge of excitatory function throughout the brain and body. When gabapentin slows down the release of glutamate, and therefore slows down the overall excitatory levels, the user does not experience seizures, or the desire for alcohol.
Gabapentin for Alcoholics
The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California wanted to find out more about how a medication for epilepsy could help a recovering alcoholic stay sober. The effect on glutamate could not only prevent seizures, but also alcohol cravings with the same brain chemistry alterations.
The study created three groups of participants, who were all dependent on alcohol. One group received a placebo that did not contain any gabapentin, one group received a daily dose of 900 milligrams of gabapentin, and one group received a daily dose of 1,200 milligrams of gabapentin. For 12 weeks, the doses were given and the research team monitored participants for changes in behavior and reported mood.
Results found that those taking the highest dose of gabapentin were twice as likely to refrain from alcohol use, and four times are likely to discontinue alcohol consumption altogether, when compared to the placebo group. The participants taking 900 milligrams did not show significant changes from the placebo group.
Implications for the Treatment of Alcoholism
With a high number of alcoholics in the United States, estimated at 18 million people currently abusing alcohol, changes and advancements that make treatment more effective are always being created, tested, and implemented. If gabapentin reduces cravings for alcohol in substance abuse rehab clients, then it can serve as a tool to keep people sober while they learn how to start a new life without alcohol, other drugs, and self-destructive behavioral choices.
When a new client presents for treatment at a rehab center, a thorough assessment is conducted. All symptoms, behaviors, and lifestyle choices are documented so that an individual treatment plan can be created. For clients who have been abusing alcohol, the overall approach to treatment will be different than for someone who was abusing heroin, for example. The initial desire for the drug of choice is different, the impact of each drug of choice is different, and the person entering rehab is different because of his or her drug of choice.
Medication management for each client is important. After assessment and proper diagnosis, the clinical treatment team can determine what pharmaceutical medications will best help each client while working through the early stages of recovery. With proof that gabapentin reduces cravings for alcohol, and leads some alcohol-dependent people to stop drinking altogether, the drug can easily be worked into a recovering alcoholic’s treatment plan.
Seeking Treatment Now
This entire process is carried out every day at Sovereign Health Group of California. An individual plan is created for every single client, depending completely on his or her personal needs. The goal is to begin the healing process with tools, strategies, and skills to help clients learn and practice ways of coping, without drugs and alcohol, that will happen in real-life, but can be worked through in the safe environment of rehab.
If you, or someone you love, has been abusing alcohol, the team at Sovereign Health Group will help you figure out what next step to take.
When you enter treatment, gabapentin may block your cravings and can be one of the tools, catered to you, that helps stop your dependence on alcohol. Call now to find out more!
Blog post by: Marissa Maldonado