Gabapentin was developed as an anti-seizure medication that is sometimes prescribed to alleviate pain from shingles and other neuropathic conditions. While it is not considered a narcotic or controlled substance in the U.S., gabapentin is classified as an opiate potentiate, which can amplify the effects of opioids like heroin and prescription pain medications. The combination of gabapentin with opioids makes it possible for gabapentin to become abused and prolonged usage may cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentinoids are a group of drugs that may treat conditions like neuropathic pain or restless leg syndrome. They may also be prescribed for epilepsy or hot flashes. Gabapentin, which is also marketed as Neurontin and Gralise, was first synthesized in 1987 as an analog of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that affects the body’s nervous system. Gabapentin may help a user feel relaxed or calm, which can help people with nerve pain or anxiety problems. It is most often prescribed as an anticonvulsant that can lessen various types of seizures including tonic-clonic (grand mal) epileptic fits, and muscle spasms associated with some motor disorders like Parkinson’s disease or dystonia.
Gabapentin’s ability to tackle a variety of ailments has made it one of the most popular prescriptions in America. In May 2019, GoodRx reported Gabapentin was the fifth-most prescribed drug nationwide. Recently, gabapentin has been increasingly used as a less addictive alternative to opioids. Gabapentin abuse and addiction may still occur in patients.
Understanding Gabapentin Abuse & Addiction
Gabapentin abuse is considered unlikely due to its low addictive potential. However, it does produce withdrawal symptoms which are an important aspect of physical addiction.
The chances of gabapentin abuse occurring are thought to be fairly low because the drug has a relatively weak addiction profile. Gabapentin can still cause some side effects in users who take too much for extended periods though, including withdrawals when dosage levels drop (this could indicate that there was previously dependence).
Gabapentin is more commonly misused by individuals who mix it with alcohol or other substances to enhance the effects of gabapentin or other substance. People who use gabapentin may experience a euphoric high similar to the high from marijuana. Being intoxicated on gabapentin could make a user feel overjoyed yet calm. Because of its widespread availability due to its medical applications, legal classification, and inability to be detected on most drug tests, gabapentin has the capacity for being a drug of abuse on its own. The prescription drug is being classified as a more strictly controlled substance in states where abuse is on the rise.
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Signs Of Gabapentin Abuse
Gabapentin users have reported symptoms such as suicidal thoughts or mood swings along with other side effects, including the following:
- elevated blood pressure
- sleep problems
- appetite changes
- chest pains
Because of its ability to potentiate, or enhance the effects of opioids, gabapentin addiction is common with other substance addictions, particularly opiates like fentanyl or prescription painkillers. Signs of addiction may include the following behavior:
- Doctor “shopping”. Seeking out multiple physicians to obtain extra doses
- Withholding information, exaggerating, or lying about symptoms to a doctor
- Fearful at the idea that the drug becomes unavailable
- Trouble at school, work, or social circles
Gabapentin overdose side effects vary but can be characterized by drowsiness and muscle weakness. Other common symptoms may include the following according to The National Library of Medicine (NLM):
- drooping eyelids
Gabapentin is formulated to slow down misfiring in the brain that causes seizures. This slows many bodily systems such as respiratory functions. Overdose from gabapentin is more likely to occur when mixing the drug with substances such as opioids and/or alcohol. An overdose of any substance can cause lasting damage to internal organs, including the kidneys, liver, and heart.
Withdrawal from gabapentin is a serious and potentially dangerous medical situation. Symptoms of withdrawal can begin as soon as 12 hours after discontinuing the use of this drug, escalating to headaches, nausea, dizziness, and insomnia by day 10.
Some common gabapentin withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- muscle pain or spasms
- depression and/or anxiety
- chances in appetite
It’s not unusual for some people who have used gabapentin over an extended period to experience these symptoms. Even though gabapentin is considered an anticonvulsant drug, withdrawal after long-term use may actually increase the chance of seizures.
Getting Help For Gabapentin Addiction
Because addiction to gabapentin may also include a co-dependency to other drugs, such as opioid like heroin or oxycodone, we often need a multifaceted approach for addiction treatment to get to the root of the problem. The potential for severe withdrawal symptoms also means going “cold turkey” can be associated with sometimes severe complications and side effects. The detoxification process is best undergone under the supervision of medical professionals.
At Riverside Recovery of Tampa, our team is trained and specialized in this process of treatment. If you or someone you know is suffering from gabapentin misuse or addiction, it might be time to call Riverside Recovery. We are an evidence-based treatment facility that offers a range of care for substance addiction. Our approach includes mindful meditation and immersive technology to create both inner healing spaces and tranquil views overlooking the river.
Every detail in our building, from the flooring to outside scenery, has been designed with recovery at its heart-providing clients with opportunities for tranquility while they work on their journey back into health.