Symptoms like anxiety, tremors and agitation can make alcohol withdrawal a harrowing experience. In fact, the discomfort of withdrawal drives many alcoholics to go back to drinking, in spite of the damage that alcohol has done to their lives. Gabapentin, sold under the trade name Neurontin, has been used to help recovering alcoholics cope with the debilitating side effects of withdrawal. Some clinical studies have shown that gabapentin may even reduce alcohol cravings, helping alcoholics in recovery stay sober.
What Is Neurontin/Gabapentin?
Gabapentin belongs to a category of medications called anticonvulsants. It acts on the central nervous system by affecting the way the brain processes GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate nerve activity. Gabapentin makes the cells less excitable, which may reduce seizure activity and minimize the transmission of pain signals along the nerves.
Neurontin/gabapentin is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the prevention of epileptic seizures and for the relief of nerve-related pain. The drug is used for addiction treatment on an off-label basis, meaning that it has not been approved for this purpose by the FDA. Eventually, if clinical evidence confirms that gabapentin is safe and effective for treating alcohol dependence, the medication may be approved for this usage.
Neurontin is an oral medication that is taken in tablet or capsule form. You should not take Neurontin for any reason without a doctor’s prescription and ongoing medical supervision. While you’re taking this medication, you should be monitored for side effects such as:
- High blood pressure
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Chest pain
Neurontin may also cause changes in your moods or emotions. In some patients, this medication triggers feelings of hopelessness or despair, while others experience memory loss, difficulty concentrating, hostility or aggressive impulses. Using alcohol or illicit drugs while you’re taking Neurontin could cause serious drug interactions.
How Is Gabapentin Used in Addiction Treatment?
The use of gabapentin in addiction therapy is still in the exploratory stages. Some clinical studies of the use of this medication in detox and rehab have shown promising results.
In the early stages of recovery, Neurontin may offer the following benefits:
- It may make you feel less anxious or restless.
- It may help you keep your focus on your rehab program.
- It may help you resist the urge to drink.
- It may make withdrawal from alcohol more comfortable.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that gabapentin may help recovering alcoholics maintain their abstinence. The study followed 60 alcohol-dependent men who participated in a 28-day study of the use of gabapentin for addiction therapy. After completing the rehab program, the men who took gabapentin had higher rates of abstinence and fewer drinking days than the group who didn’t take the medication. The men who took gabapentin were more capable of resisting the impulse to drink and reported having fewer cravings.
According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, gabapentin may be combined with naltrexone — a medication used to treat alcohol or opioid dependency — to improve abstinence rates. In a study of 150 alcoholics who took naltrexone alone or naltrexone with gabapentin, the group that took naltrexone with gabapentin was more successful at staying sober after rehab than the group that took naltrexone alone.
The low abuse potential of gabapentin makes it appealing to alcoholics who are concerned about addiction. Because gabapentin is generally safe and non-addictive, it may be safer than benzodiazepines like Valium and Ativan, which are often prescribed to control the anxiety and agitation of withdrawal. Although these sedatives can be highly effective, they can also be habit-forming, which may be a threat to sobriety in the early days of rehab.
Are There Any Risks to Taking Neurontin?
Neurontin should be taken as part of a professional alcohol rehab program that also offers counseling, peer group support and holistic therapies. You should not take gabapentin on your own. If you’re taking the medication with a prescription and you want to stop, you should taper off the drug with your doctor’s help. Suddenly stopping Neurontin can cause withdrawal symptoms that are similar to alcohol withdrawal.
At Axis, we provide a safe, supportive environment for your recovery. Our therapists stay on top of the latest innovations in addiction medicine, bringing you the best in evidence-based therapy. Call our intake specialists to learn more about our exclusive yet affordable rehab programs. If you’re ready to seek help, we have a wealth of hope to offer.