NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The drug gabapentin can reduce alcohol consumption and craving in patients who are receiving treatment for alcohol dependence, Brazilian researchers report in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

Gabapentin, commonly known by the trade names Neurontin or Gabarone, is an anti-seizure drug frequently prescribed for epilepsy. The drug is also used to treat persistent neurological pain. The mechanisms of action involved in gabapentin's analgesic and anticonvulsant effects are unknown.

A clinical trial involving 60 patients who consumed an average of at least 35 drinks per week was conducted by Dr. Fernando A. Furieri, at the Vitoria Municipal Addiction Treatment Center, and Dr. Ester M. Nakamura-Palacios, at the Federal University of Espirito Santo in Vitoria.

After a 7-day treatment for alcohol withdrawal, the patients were randomly assigned to gabapentin (up to 600 mg/day) or placebo for 28 days. Thirty-nine patients used the tranquilizer Valium during the withdrawal phase -- 15 in the placebo group and 13 in the gabapentin group continued on Valium during the study phase.

The number of drinks per day, per week, and over the 4-week course of treatment declined significantly more in the gabapentin group than in the placebo group. Gabapentin was also associated with fewer heavy drinking days and more days of abstinence. The authors note that 20 subjects in the gabapentin group and 13 in the placebo group maintained complete abstinence.

According to the patients' scores on the Obsessive Compulsive Drinking Scale, craving for alcohol was reduced significantly more by gabapentin than by placebo.

"Gabapentin has shown great potential in the treatment of alcohol dependence and withdrawal syndromes," given alone or with other drugs, the authors conclude.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, November 2007.