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Drinking Alcohol with Gabapentin: Risks and Treatment

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Last Updated - 06/25/2024

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Key Takeaways

  • Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication FDA-approved for epilepsy, postherpetic neuralgia and as an adjunct for other anticonvulsants.
  • It has expanded off-label use for conditions like fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder and alcohol withdrawal, but side effects require careful monitoring.
  • Alcohol is a CNS depressant that can lead to addiction and various health issues, including liver disease and increased cancer risk.
  • Gabapentin and alcohol both depress the CNS and their concurrent use can amplify side effects like dizziness and drowsiness, increasing the risk of injury and overdose.
  • Healthcare providers advise against mixing gabapentin with alcohol due to the potential for severe side effects and impairment.
  • Long-term concurrent use of gabapentin and alcohol can lead to serious health consequences, including increased risk of overdose and liver damage.
  • Effective treatment for gabapentin and alcohol misuse includes medication-assisted therapy, careful patient monitoring and integrated support services.

What is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is a medication recognized for its role in neurology as a gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) analogue. Its primary function is to mimic the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA, reducing excitability among neurons, which is crucial in managing conditions like seizures and neuropathic pain. 

Medical Uses

Gabapentin belongs to a class of drugs known for their anticonvulsant properties and has been FDA-approved for several specific medical conditions, including epilepsy and postherpetic neuralgia and as an adjunct for more potent anticonvulsants.

While gabapentin’s original approval was for seizure control, its use has expanded to include off-label prescriptions for a variety of conditions. These include neuropathic pain syndromes such as fibromyalgia, bipolar disorder, postmenopausal hot flashes and even alcohol withdrawal. 

Side Effects

Its versatility in managing different types of pain and neurological conditions makes it a valuable tool in clinical practice. However, gabapentin’s side effects, such as drowsiness, dizziness, loss of coordination and potential allergic reactions, necessitate careful monitoring by healthcare professionals.

Health and Addiction Risks of Alcohol

Alcohol is a widely consumed substance with various effects on the body, ranging from short-term to long-term health consequences. It is known for its potential to cause addiction and a range of medical conditions. Alcohol’s depressive effects on the central nervous system can lead to neuronal injury and other serious health issues. The National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) highlights the systematic impact of prolonged alcohol intake, including the risk of developing serious ailments.

Overall, while alcohol can be part of social rituals and may offer some health benefits when consumed in moderation, the potential for addiction and adverse health effects cannot be overlooked. It is essential for individuals to be aware of the risks and to consume alcohol responsibly.

How Gabapentin Interacts With the Body

An important aspect of gabapentin’s pharmacokinetics is that it is not metabolized by the liver, which sets it apart from many other drugs. Instead, it remains unchanged throughout its presence in the body. The medication is processed by the body with an elimination half-life of 5 to 7 hours, requiring approximately two days for complete excretion.

Renal excretion is the primary route of elimination for gabapentin, with approximately 100% of an administered dose being excreted in the urine as an unchanged drug. This means that renal function is a significant factor in the drug’s clearance and dosing adjustments may be necessary for patients with impaired renal function.

How Alcohol Interacts With the Body

Alcohol, known chemically as ethanol, undergoes a specific pharmacokinetic process in the body involving absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion. Upon consumption, alcohol is absorbed primarily through the gastrointestinal tract. Its absorption rate can be influenced by factors such as the rate of gastric emptying, with faster absorption occurring in the small intestine. 

Once absorbed, ethanol is distributed rapidly throughout the body’s tissues, equilibrating with the blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The excretion of alcohol and its metabolites occurs through urine, breath, sweat and feces. Understanding the pharmacokinetics of alcohol is crucial for grasping its physiological effects and potential interactions with other substances, such as medications. 

What Happens When Gabapentin and Alcohol Are Mixed

Gabapentin and alcohol are both central nervous system (CNS) depressants, meaning they can slow down brain activity. When taken together, they can amplify each other’s effects, potentially leading to severe side effects. The most common effects reported include dizziness, loss of coordination, drowsiness, tiredness and memory issues, which can significantly impair a person’s ability to perform daily tasks safely.

Additionally, the risk of overdose or death is increased when these substances are mixed. It is essential for individuals taking gabapentin to avoid or limit alcohol consumption to prevent these dangerous interactions.

Patients are also cautioned to avoid driving, operating machinery, or engaging in any potentially hazardous activities while using gabapentin, especially if they have consumed alcohol. The combination can impair thinking and judgment, further increasing the likelihood of accidents.

Gabapentin and Alcohol Co-Use Impact on CNS

Healthcare providers strongly advise against the concurrent use of gabapentin and alcohol. When alcohol is consumed in conjunction with gabapentin, the depressive effects on the CNS are compounded, increasing the risk of severe side effects, including respiratory failure, particularly in individuals with compromised respiratory function or when used in excessive amounts.

Furthermore, gabapentin has been associated with a reduction in alcohol relapse rates, suggesting a potential therapeutic role in alcohol use disorder (AUD) treatment. It is crucial for patients to follow their healthcare provider’s recommendations and discuss any concerns regarding gabapentin use with alcohol to ensure their safety and well-being.

Gabapentin and Alcohol Impact on Liver Health

The liver is a vital organ responsible for processing medications and toxins, including gabapentin and alcohol. Gabapentin’s interaction with alcohol, particularly regarding liver health, is a concern. Although gabapentin-induced hepatotoxicity is rare, a case report highlighted gabapentin-associated acute liver injury, emphasizing the need for vigilance when prescribing this medication.

Alcohol consumption is well-known for its potential to cause liver damage, leading to conditions such as alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD). Interestingly, a study found that among therapies for AUD, gabapentin was associated with the lowest odds of developing ALD. This could be due to gabapentin’s alcohol-reducing properties, anxiolytic effects and its association with improved sleep quality, which may reduce the consumption of alcohol.

Risks of Mixing Gabapentin with Alcohol

Despite some studies indicating gabapentin’s potential in treating AUD, the dangers of mixing it with alcohol cannot be overstated. Individuals with a history of substance use disorders or those undergoing treatment for alcohol withdrawal should be especially cautious, as the concurrent use of gabapentin and alcohol may exacerbate the risk of adverse effects.

Mixing gabapentin with alcohol can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening side effects. Gabapentin affects the central nervous system by altering electrical activity and neurotransmitter levels, which can result in sedation and dizziness. When combined with alcohol, this combination can be particularly dangerous as it may lead to an increased risk of accidental injury, overdose and even death.

Overdose Risks

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings about the increased risk of respiratory depression and overdose when gabapentin is taken with alcohol or other CNS depressants. Individuals with a history of AUD may be prescribed gabapentin to manage withdrawal symptoms, but if alcohol consumption resumes, the risk of severe respiratory depression and overdose escalates.

This risk is not confined to those with AUD; even those taking gabapentin as prescribed can experience adverse effects when alcohol is introduced into the equation. Statistics from various health sources indicate that overdose deaths involving gabapentin frequently occur in conjunction with other CNS depressants like opioids and alcohol.

Long-Term Health Risks

Long-term use of gabapentin and alcohol in combination can pose significant health risks. Complete abstinence from alcohol is recommended when taking gabapentin to avoid these long-term health risks. Some of the long-term health risks include:

  • Increased risk of accidents due to impaired motor control and behavior changes.
  • Potential development of substance use disorder when trying to counteract side effects of one substance with the other.
  • Increased risk of overdose, particularly when factors such as respiratory depression are present.
  • Changes in liver function and potential liver damage over time.
  • Exacerbation of mental health issues, including mood disturbances and increased anxiety.

Treatment and Prevention Strategies for Gabapentin and Alcohol Abuse

Prevention strategies should include careful screening for potential risk factors for gabapentin misuse, such as a history of opioid use disorder or polydrug use. Treatment strategies may involve the use of gabapentin in combination with other medications like flumazenil or naltrexone, tailored to individual patient needs and withdrawal histories. 

Close monitoring of patients for signs of toxicity and misuse is crucial. Furthermore, comprehensive treatment approaches that integrate counseling and support services can enhance the effectiveness of pharmacotherapy and contribute to long-term recovery.

Overcoming AUD might seem impossible. But that’s not the case. Many people can recover if they go to a specialized rehab center that uses proven treatments. Alcohol treatment uses various methods to help with withdrawal and addiction. With these interventions, people can find health and happiness in sobriety.

Alcohol addiction treatments may include:

  • Medication-assisted treatment: This treatment uses medicines to reduce AUD symptoms like cravings and withdrawal.
  • Individual and group therapy: Talking with therapists either one-on-one or in groups can help people recover. Methods include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
  • Relapse prevention programs: These programs teach people how to avoid relapse, understand the process and develop healthy coping methods.
  • Family therapy: AUDs affect the entire family. Working with a family therapist can start the path to healing the relationships damaged by alcohol misuse.
  • Recreational therapies: These therapies help people in recovery find joy in their new, sober life, improving their physical and mental health.

At Orlando Recovery Center Drug and Alcohol Rehab, we offer many alcohol addiction treatment options led by trained medical professionals. Our levels of care include medical detox, inpatient rehabilitation and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). No matter where you are in your recovery journey, our team will be there every step of the way. Start your admission today.


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