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Gabapentin and Alcohol Interactions

What is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant. Common brand names for this drug include Gralise®, Horizant®, and Neurontin®.  

Gabapentin

This drug helps treat various medical conditions. It can help treat certain seizures in individuals who have epilepsy.

Doctors may also prescribe this drug for: 

  • Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN)
  • Restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • Diabetic neuropathy
  • Hot flashes (caused by breast cancer treatments or menopause)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Alcohol dependence

Side Effects of Gabapentin

Using gabapentin can cause different side effects, including:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Double or blurred vision
  • Memory difficulties
  • Strange thoughts 
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Impotence
  • Stronger appetite
  • Weight gain

Rarer but more serious side effects of the drug include:

  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Respiratory problems (breathing or swallowing)
  • Seizures
  • Swelling of the face, throat, tongue, lips, or eyes
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Depression

Mixing gabapentin with central nervous system (CNS) depressants can create stronger side effects. These include alcohol, antihistamines, and muscle relaxants, among others

Is Gabapentin Addictive?

Yes, gabapentin can be addictive.

It is less addictive than opioids, but physical dependence and tolerance can still develop.

Withdrawal symptoms may occur when you stop taking the medication suddenly.

Quitting gabapentin all at once can result in more frequent seizures. Doctors may taper your dose over a week or more to minimize the risk of such symptoms. 

Is Gabapentin an Effective Treatment for Alcohol Withdrawal?

There is not enough evidence to answer this question conclusively.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that gabapentin may help treat alcohol withdrawal and promote alcohol abstinence. 

In the randomized clinical trial, 1% of the placebo participants reported total alcohol abstinence. 41% of the gabapentin participants reached total abstinence. 

However, more studies are needed. Especially in people who have Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), liver disease, and psychiatric and health conditions. 

Also, the study authors report supportive counseling or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) attendance may have contributed to treatment success. 

Can I Drink Alcohol While Taking Gabapentin?

No, you should not drink alcohol when taking gabapentin.

You should not take any medication that can cause drowsiness or dizziness.

Drinking alcohol can increase the severity of side effects and the risk of overdose or death. 

Risks and Side Effects of Mixing Gabapentin and Alcohol

Gabapentin alone can cause:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Slow thought processes
  • Loss of coordination
  • Changes in mental health
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts 

Alcohol is a CNS depressant, so it has similar side effects to gabapentin. Mixing gabapentin and alcohol increases the risk of these effects. It can also make them worse.

In more severe cases, alcohol and gabapentin can cause respiratory depression. Difficulty breathing or swallowing can result in death. 

Also, the risk of death by overdose is possible. Alcohol can worsen the symptoms of gabapentin overdose.

Symptoms of gabapentin overdose include:

  • Lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Diarrhea
  • Ataxia (lack of muscle control or coordination)
  • Drowsiness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Irritability

The risk of gabapentin-alcohol interactions is higher in women and the elderly. Both women and the elderly cannot metabolize alcohol efficiently.

This means that alcohol stays in the body longer and can interact with gabapentin.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol use disorder (AUD) and addiction, including:

Inpatient Programs

Inpatient treatment takes place at a licensed residential treatment center.

These programs provide 24/7 comprehensive, structured care. You'll live in safe, substance-free housing and have access to professional medical monitoring. 

The first step of an inpatient program is detoxification. Then behavioral therapy and other services are introduced. These programs typically last 30, 60, or 90 days, sometimes longer.

Most programs help set up your aftercare once you complete the inpatient portion of your treatment.

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Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs)

Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) provide similar services to inpatient programs.

Services include medical care, behavioral therapy, and support groups, along with other customized therapies. 

However, in a PHP program, you return home to sleep. Some services provide food and transportation, but services vary by program.

PHPs accept new patients as well as people who have completed an inpatient program and require additional intensive treatment.

Outpatient Programs

Outpatient treatment is less intensive than inpatient treatment or partial hospitalization programs.

These programs organize your treatment session based on your schedule. The goal of outpatient treatment is to provide therapy, education, and support in a flexible environment.

They are best for people who have a high motivation to recover and cannot leave their responsibilities at home, work, or school. Outpatient programs are often part of aftercare programs once you complete an inpatient or PHP program.

It is important for people undergoing treatment to have a stable and supportive home environment. If family members/roommates drink or use drugs in the home environment, it will be extremely difficult for the person to maintain abstinence when they return home after treatment. It is extremely difficult to undergo successful outpatient therapy if you are living in a home environment with ready access to drugs and alcohol.

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Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT)

Sometimes medications may be used in alcohol addiction treatment.

Some medicines can help reduce the negative side effects of detoxification and withdrawal.

Others can help you reduce cravings and normalize body functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone are the most common medications used to treat AUD. 

When combined with other evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), MAT can help prevent relapse and increase your chance of recovery.

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Support Groups

Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Self-Management And Recovery Training (SMART) are open to anyone with a substance use disorder.

They are peer-led organizations dedicated to helping each other remain sober.  Support groups can be the first step towards recovery or part of a long-term aftercare plan.

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Updated on April 8, 2022
4 sources cited
  1. Anton RF, Latham P, Voronin K, et al. Efficacy of Gabapentin for the Treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder in Patients With Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2020;180:728–736. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2020.0249
  2. “Gabapentin: MedlinePlus Drug Information.” MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 15 May 2020, medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a694007.html
  3. National Center for Biotechnology Information. "PubChem Compound Summary for CID 3446, Gabapentin" PubChem, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Gabapentin. Accessed 26 January, 2021.
  4. NEURONTIN (Gabapentin). Food and Drug Administration, www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2017/020235s064_020882s047_021129s046lbl.pdf.

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