Neurontin/Gabapentin for Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal is often an uncomfortable, even painful process that takes both time and tenacity to get past. The physical cravings for alcohol, combined with its powerful psychological effects often drive people right back to drinking. Gabapentin – the generic form of Neurontin – is a drug commonly used to treat seizure disorders, but may also offer some treatment help for people who suffer from alcohol withdrawal symptoms. While not yet federally approved as a treatment for alcoholism, clinical studies using gabapentin and Neurontin are uncovering many potential benefits for treating the symptoms that occur during withdrawal periods.

Gabapentin’s Effects on the Alcohol Addiction Cycle

After years of ongoing alcohol use, reaching for a drink when life gets stressful or overwhelming may seem like the most natural thing to do. The reason it feels so natural is because of how alcohol directly targets the brain’s fear and stress centers. After years of ongoing use, the brain develops an actual need for alcohol in order to cope with daily events, so in a sense, reaching for a drink becomes a “natural” behavior. This chain of events is the alcohol addiction cycle.

Part of the reason why researchers have taken an interest in gabapentin as an addiction treatment is due to the way it counteracts the effects of alcohol by restoring the brain’s normal chemical functions. Gabapentin targets an area of the brain known as the central amygdala. This area plays a pivotal role in producing the fear and stress responses you feel throughout the day. In effect, gabapentin helps malfunctioning brain cells produce the chemicals needed to handle everyday stressors without alcohol.

Insomnia Effects

If you’ve attempted to abstain from alcohol after a long history of drinking, you may have experienced bouts with insomnia on a regular basis. Insomnia is one of the withdrawal effects brought on by alcohol deprivation. Studies involving gabapentin or Neurontin have shown it to be an effective treatment for insomnia withdrawal episodes.

According to an article in Primary Psychiatry, gabapentin produced the best results for improved sleep quality when compared with trazodone and lorazepam in a clinical study. In addition, participants who were given trazodone and lorazepam experienced grogginess during the daytime hours, while those receiving gabapentin did not.

*Current Treatments for Alcohol Withdrawal

Currently, there are several FDA-approved drug treatments for alcohol withdrawal symptoms, though few if any treat the whole range of symptoms brought on by abstinence. Some of the drugs currently used and their associated effects include:

  • Benzodiazepines:  May help alleviate anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Antidepressants:  May help relieve insomnia symptoms
  • Low-dose tricycles antidepressants:  May help relieve insomnia symptoms
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs:  May help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms

Gabapentin holds some promise in terms of its ability to treat many of the symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal.

Anxiety Effects

Social anxiety is a common ailment for those who struggle with alcohol as well as those who don’t. So it’s no surprise that alcoholic beverages are pretty much an “expected” menu item at most party events. If you experience mild or moderate anxiety at work or around friends or family, these events can easily trigger the urge to drink. Gabapentin or Neurontin has been found to help alleviate anxiety triggers for people going through alcohol withdrawal.

Gabapentin’s effectiveness in treating anxiety symptoms has to do with its chemical structure. Gabapentin is somewhat similar to the brain chemical known as GABA. When the brain secretes GABA, the chemical moves through the spinal cord nerves and on into different areas of the body. In general, GABA has a slowing or restful effect on the brain and body. Gabapentin’s effects work in much the same way as GABA’s, which helps to relieve the anxiety symptoms brought on by alcohol withdrawal.