According to GoodRX, gabapentin is the fourth most prescribed drug in the United States. Due to its prevalence and popularity, it has slowly made its way into the realm of drug abuse and addiction.
What is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is a prescription drug used to prevent seizures. An anticonvulsant or antiepileptic drug, it is commonly administered orally via capsule. Along with its seizure preventative properties, it can also help dull nerve pain caused from shingles. Different brand names of gabapentin can have different primary uses. For example, the brand Gralise treats shingles pain, whereas Neurontin primarily targets adult seizure activity. Both medications contain gabapentin; however, they also contain a mixture of other drugs to treat the specific ailment.
Gabapentin for Anxiety
Gabapentin has been proven to be effective against anxiety disorders while being potentially a safer alternative to traditional benzodiazepines such as Xanax. It is considered to be a low risk drug that likely will not cause addiction or promote abuse and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) does not consider it to be a controlled substance.
Gabapentin comes with a long list of medical warnings intended to promote cautious and informed use amongst users. One of these warnings is to not suddenly stop taking the drug. The immediate cessation of gabapentin use, when prescribed for epilepsy and seizures, can cause a condition which is known as status epilepticus. Status epilepticus, a seizure lasting longer than 30 minutes, has a high mortality rate.
Other warnings include avoiding the combined use of the drug with other substances, drowsiness warnings and a depression warning.
Is Gabapentin Addictive?
Most people don’t consider gabapentin to be an addictive drug. However, most anything can cause an addiction or dependency if abused for a long enough period of time. Many individuals who are currently using stronger opioids may also take it. Furthermore, individuals who are attempting to taper off an opioid addiction may turn to it as an alternative as it does not show up in drug tests.
Gabapentin can cause a euphoric high if taken in high enough doses and some users have likened its experience to marijuana. Typically, users will have to take more than 800mg in order to feel the euphoric effects. People who abuse it are also more likely to combine the drug with other substances. With polysubstance abuse, the risk of experiencing an overdose is much greater as your body experiences different effects from multiple drugs which can overwhelm the system. Most of the time, people abuse gabapentin along with opioids or alcohol.
Gabapentin overdoses are rare but still well documented. While it is very much possible to overdose, the mortality rate from this is relatively low. In other words, a significantly low number of overdoses are fatal. However, an overdose can still cause permanent damage to your body as it can prevent adequate oxygen from reaching your brain. Unfortunately, unlike opioid overdoses, gabapentin does not have a quick remedy in the case of an overdose. Most patients can be injected with Narcan to end a narcotic overdose. There is no such cure for gabapentin. Therefore, it is important that suspected overdose patients call emergency services immediately. Some signs of an overdose include:
- Double vision
- Slurred speech
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Labored breathing
Gabapentin can interact with other medications such as morphine and stomach acid drugs (aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide). Further, according to drugs.com, there are a total of 219 drugs known to interact with this medication, 24 of which are major interactions such as methadone, oxycodone, percocet, suboxone, tramadol and alcohol.
Gabapentin and Alcohol
Gabapentin can increase the effects of alcohol on the body and can seriously affect cognitive ability. It may cause you to experience enhanced side effects such as dizziness, drowsiness and difficulty concentrating. Further, the decrease in cognitive ability can cause poor decision making, such as making the decision to drink and drive.
Gabapentin can cause moderate to severe side effects when taken orally as prescribed. Some of the more serious side effects include:
- Changes in mood and behavior
- Depression (presence of suicidal thoughts)
- Trouble sleeping
- Increase in aggressiveness
- Allergic reactions
- Muscle pain
- Swollen skin
- Panic attacks
If you experience any of the above symptoms, it may help to call your medical provider and ask for further guidance.
Gabapentin is known to cause withdrawal symptoms in long-term users. According to one study, those who frequently take between 400mg to 800mg may be at higher risk of experiencing withdrawals. Gabapentin withdrawals will likely cause similar symptoms experienced by alcohol and benzodiazepine users, as all three drugs target the same GABA receptors in the brain. Withdrawal symptoms typically begin immediately after quitting and can continue for up to a week. Withdrawal severity is dependent on a variety of factors ranging from age to the regular dosage taken by the patient.
However, quitting is not impossible. Experts recommend that tapering be done in increments of no more than 300mg every 4 days. While a taper may be a safe way to slowly come off a gabapentin dependency, it does not address possible mental health issues which may have created a co-occuring disorder in the patient. Therefore, we always recommend that individuals seek professional help before beginning their journey to recovery.
Gabapentin addiction may go hand in hand with other drugs, such as opioids or alcohol. It may also result from a co-occurring mental disorder. Whatever the reason, treatment and recovery is possible. If you or a loved one is dealing with addiction, please contact us today so that we may begin the journey to life-time sobriety, together. To find out more about drug abuse and treatment, read our blog.