One of the most useful and awe-inspiring advancements throughout the history of medicine is just that—the degree to which it has advanced. From the earliest times, brilliant scientific minds made discoveries that inspired future generations to do the same, century after century, continuing to today. The sheer magnitude of how far medicine has advanced and what we can accomplish now, compared to where it all started, is nothing short of miraculous.
The Importance of Options in Addiction Treatment
With every discovery and every degree of advancement that occurs, we are given, among other things, options. It is the availability of these options that creates the space where medicine can do what it was and is meant to do. More options mean more people can be healed.
An area of medicine where these increased options have made a particularly noteworthy difference is in the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. Ancient methodologies that have been developed into modern-day holistic practices, combined with Western medicine’s pharmaceutical contributions, create new pathways to recovery that didn’t exist before. Interestingly, it is not only the cutting-edge medications that are contributing. Pharmaceutical companies are researching preexisting drugs and discovering efficacies within addiction treatment that were previously unknown.
Within the last few years, many suffering from the disease of addiction have been aided on their recovery journey by a drug you may already know but for vastly different applications. That medication is gabapentin, and it is achieving viability status for good reason.
Discovery and Development of Gabapentin
Gabapentin refers not only to the generic name of the medication but is also the name of the chemical that is its main ingredient. The chemical was discovered in Japan around 1970, and instead of developing it, they sold it to Parke-Davis, a longtime American drugmaker. A few years later, around 1974, it was developed via synthetization into the crucial blood-brain barrier breaker necessary for anti-epileptic medication to be effective. It was not approved by the FDA until 1993, by which time Parke-Davis had long since been acquired by Warner-Lambert. Warner-Lambert released it under the brand name Neurontin.
It quickly became known for being a highly effective anti-seizure medication. Although this was specifically why it was made, and it worked, new applications were discovered. Epilepsy patients further reported relief of neuropathic pain that traditional painkillers failed to alleviate. That ability catapulted it to widespread use, and less than a decade after the FDA approved it, it was in heavy rotation for treatment of non-epileptic conditions.
Today, it is commonly prescribed as follows:
- To prevent and control seizures
- For the relief of nerve pain following shingles
- As an anticonvulsant or antiepileptic
Those are intended uses, and they represent a small part; gabapentin is prescribed just as frequently, if not more so, for off-label indications. One of those is the treatment of addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Off-Label Use for Treatment of Addiction
Only a small handful of drugs have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of drug and alcohol addiction. They are:
- Buprenorphine for opioid addiction
- Methadone for opioid addiction
- Naltrexone for opioid and alcohol addiction
- Acamprosate for alcohol addiction
- Disulfiram for alcohol addiction
Doctors can prescribe drugs not on this list as long as they believe them to be appropriate or beneficial for addiction treatment and they are still FDA-approved for other purposes. This is known as “off-label use.”
Gabapentin is a popular example of this type of use. It has been used to treat addiction to various substances but is mostly used to treat alcoholism due to its efficacy when administered in high doses.
How Does It Work?
Regardless of where you are in the process of sobriety and recovery—detox, relapse prevention, or sustaining abstinence—gabapentin can be effective in all stages because of how it works. In simple terms, it works by decreasing anxiety. The vast majority of alcohol addicts also have some form of anxiety disorder, to the point where many professionals believe that one drives the other. Treating one, be it alcoholism or anxiety, tends to also aid in treating the other.
Our brains naturally produce an amino acid and neurotransmitter called GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid), the primary role of which is to improve mood, alleviate pain, and create an overall feeling of relaxation. Low levels of the GABA chemical can result in a susceptibility to experiencing severe depression and anxiety. Gabapentin normalizes GABA levels in the amygdala, which is the emotion-mediating part of the brain. When these levels are normal, feelings of pain, agitation, depression, and anxiety are reduced.
It is this “quieting effect” on parts of the brain that can be adversely overactive that earned gabapentin its FDA approval for seizures and pain. While the FDA doesn’t yet recommend it for treatment of moderate to severe alcohol addiction, the American Psychiatric Association does.
In 2013, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism conducted a clinical trial of gabapentin with 150 alcohol-dependent patients. The patients taking gabapentin had a much higher rate of stopping drinking entirely (four times) and refraining from heavy drinking (two times) than those taking placebos. The patients taking gabapentin reported an overall decrease in cravings, along with improvements in sleep and mood.
Ultimately, the results of this trial were favorable for gabapentin. Compared with other FDA-approved drugs used to treat addiction, gabapentin had results just as good, if not better.
This study has paved the way for finding more specific applications, such as detox and withdrawal, preventing relapse, and sustaining abstinence from alcohol.
Detox and Withdrawal
Benzodiazepines have been the primary method of treating patients going through alcohol withdrawal, but more are being treated with gabapentin for the same symptoms. Patients have reported feeling up to 50% improvement the very next day, reaching 100% improvement and out of withdrawals within four days. Unlike benzodiazepines, there are no adverse effects, no drug-to-drug interactions, no cognitive impairment, and no renal system complications, making it an extremely viable option in a detox setting.
Other studies on the drug establish its efficacy in reducing cravings and post-hospitalization consumption, two steppingstones to relapse. Patients typically preoccupied with alcohol, experiencing irresistible cravings, or with no ability to control their consumption have experienced a significant lessening of the intensity of those feelings. All of these things working together at a high intensity are, for many people, the makings of a relapse. Gabapentin’s ability to significantly decrease the intensity of those feelings, or remove them altogether, indicates results just as desirable as other medications currently in use for relapse prevention, if not more so.
Gabapentin is most effective in sustaining abstinence from alcohol that occurs after very severe and prolonged alcoholism. That correlates with how taking gabapentin is physically manifested. While the effects can be felt quickly from a physiological sense, it works even better and seems to be even more effective the longer it is in your system.
To aid in sustaining alcohol abstinence, gabapentin is often needed for an extended period. That means the simple act of taking the drug must also be sustainable—that is, no adverse effects for the person taking it, and there aren’t. It does not present the same issues that come with anti-anxiety medications such as Valium and Xanax, both of which are habit-forming with difficult withdrawal symptoms to endure. It also doesn’t cause the weight gain for which certain SSRIs are known.
Under the careful supervision of a doctor, gabapentin is a safe, effective option for most people with moderate to severe alcoholism.
Should Gabapentin Be a Part of Your Treatment?
The best person to answer this question is a doctor who is familiar and has extensive experience with the drug specifically in this application.
Because of its relative newness in the area of addiction treatment, not every treatment facility will be able to offer gabapentin as part of your individualized recovery program; they also may not have medical staff with sufficient experience using it specifically for addiction. If the ways gabapentin is effective represent what you or your loved one wants as a part of treatment, be sure to do your research to limit your considerations to only those facilities that offer gabapentin treatment under the supervision of medical doctors specializing in addiction and mental health.
Granite Recovery Centers
Granite Recovery Centers can provide this level of care for you while giving you options. There are four locations to meet your needs, along with a separate sober living program with four additional locations. This network has been set up specifically to offer the most options for treatment of addiction so that you find a program catered to the specific needs and goals of you and your family.
After reading this, perhaps you’re excited by gabapentin and the possibility of relief that other medications have not been able to provide; if so, Granite Recovery Centers has a program for you. Perhaps pharmaceuticals are not your thing and you desire a more natural, holistic approach. Maybe you want a program heavily based on CBT. It could be that none of those sound appealing to you and you just want the comfort and stability of a 12-step curriculum. Whatever your need, whatever your level of care desired, Granite Recovery Centers has a program for you.
Heal Without Stigma or Shame
There are too many people who feel treatment is not an option because of the stigma and shame they would have to endure. This is a tragedy. Please do not let that stop you from something that might save your life. The stigma doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to a society that wrongly judges that which it does not understand. Asking for help and seeking treatment are acts of bravery. Here, that is cause for celebration, not shame.
The Granite Recovery Centers network was built on understanding and respecting that addiction is a disease, and that disease is very much treatable for everyone. We have enjoyed growth and enjoyed rising to be an industry leader because of the value we place on respect and compassion. We are passionate about providing treatment that transforms lives, so every location and every program is focused on setting you up for success.
We are available 24/7 to discuss your options or answer questions you may have about gabapentin or anything else related to your recovery. Your program is here, at Granite Recovery Centers. There is no stigma here and no shame, just treatment and your pathway to recovery. Reach out to us today to get started on your journey to sobriety.