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Epilepsy drug may help alcoholics recover from dependence, small study suggests
Date:8/3/2008

ANN ARBOR, Mich. It's a Catch-22 of the highest order. People with alcohol problems often use alcohol to get to sleep -- but it actually keeps them from getting good-quality sleep all night long.

At the same time, they're highly likely to suffer from full-blown chronic insomnia that keeps them from getting enough sleep night after night and that condition has been shown to cut their chances of getting sober again.

Meanwhile, their doctors aren't likely to prescribe them insomnia medications, because most sleeping pills can be habit-forming or have adverse effects due to an alcohol-damaged liver.

Now, a small new pilot study from a team of University of Michigan alcoholism and sleep researchers offers some sign of a possible way out of this conundrum.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, suggests that the drug gabapentin might be able to reduce insomnia in recovering alcoholics, and help them stay away from alcohol more successfully. The drug, often used to treat epilepsy and chronic pain, is not habit-forming and is not processed by the liver.

Although the study involved only 21 insomniacs in recovery from alcohol dependence, and did not provide long-term gabapentin treatment or long-term follow-up on their sleep or their alcohol recovery, it was randomized, placebo-controlled, and double-blinded. In all, 30 percent of the patients who received gabapentin during alcohol recovery relapsed to drinking, compared with 80 percent of those who received a placebo.

Based on the results, the researchers have already launched additional studies of the potential role of gabapentin in alcohol recovery and sleep.

"We showed that the patients who got the real drug, rather than placebo, were less likely to relapse to drinking -- or if they relapsed it was later," says lead author Kirk Brower, M.D., FASAM, the executive director
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Contact: Kara Gavin
kegavin@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
Source:Eurekalert

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