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Epilepsy Drug Helps Rats Kick Alcohol Habit

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Last month, we blogged about rodent research that showed promise in treating cirrhosis; now, in a study just published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers conducting experiments with alcohol-dependent rats have found that the anticonvulsant drug gabapentin, currently prescribed to treat epilepsy and chronic pain, "represents a potential medication for treatment of alcoholism."

When the alcoholic rodent subjects — which were actually made dependent on ethanol through exposure in their food or in aerosol form — were given gabapentin, their alcohol intake decreased. By contrast, alcohol consumption by control group rats, who hadn't been made alcohol-dependent, was unaffected.

Although gabapentin — known by the brand name Neurontin — had already been used as an effective treatment for withdrawal symptoms and cravings in detoxifying alcohol-dependent patients, the significance of the new research is that it uncovered cellular-level processes in the brain involved in alcohol addiction.

Long-term alcohol abuse modifies chemical communication between neurons in the central amygdala, a region of the brain with a significant role in controlling alcohol consumption. "Gabapentin corrected the cellular effects of chronic alcohol exposure," according to a release issued by the Society for Neuroscience.

Said Dr. Robert Messing of the University of California, San Francisco - who was not connected to the research - "this paper provides a strong rationale for large clinical trials testing whether gabapentin is an effective treatment for alcoholism in both detoxified and actively drinking alcoholics."