As science has evolved, a wide array of drugs are now available that can make a tremendous, positive difference in the lives of tens of millions of people who suffer from a variety of painful disorders. Sadly, as far as we have come, we still have a long way to go, as ample evidence exists to demonstrate that many of these drugs have highly dangerous side effects and can be extremely addictive. One of those drugs is gabapentin.
What Is Gabapentin?
Gabapentin is an antiepileptic and anticonvulsant drug. It also goes by the brand name of Neurontin and works by altering how your brain operates. Specifically, it alters the neuroelectric workings of your brain, changing the transmission of these signals between nerve cells in your brain. Gabapentin side effects are minimal when taken as prescribed under a doctor’s care. Gabapentin drug interactions can be serious, as such patients should report all medications to their doctors.
Gabapentin comes in many different forms, including immediate release and sustained release. Sustained-release tends to delay your body’s absorption of the medication and its experience with any side effects. It is generally preferred for people with substance use disorders, as delayed-release can also delay any of the pleasurable or “high” feelings that one experiences when taking a medication.
While not classified by the federal government as a controlled substance, gabapentin has been classed as a Schedule 5 controlled substance in Kentucky and Michigan. This means that it is not a narcotic and is considered to be mildly addictive.
Why People Use Gabapentin
Gabapentin is often prescribed for restless leg syndrome, epilepsy, and forms of nerve pain (neuropathy). When used correctly, it is a safe drug and can be given to young children who suffer from certain types of seizures. Other uses include dealing with the pain caused by shingles and fibromyalgia.
Some prescribers use gabapentin for off-label uses. This means that the medication is approved for specific uses and doctors and patients have found it beneficial to treat additional conditions. Gabapentin has been prescribed for bipolar disorder, attention, and drug and alcohol withdrawal seizures. It has become a sort of “catch-all” medication due partly to uncertainty around its exact mechanism of action.
How gabapentin is taken is extremely important, particularly for seizures. The dose must be taken at appropriate levels and intervals. Failure to do so may intensify seizures and result in other severe side effects. As such, adults who take gabapentin must do so at regular intervals and keep a very close eye on when they take this medication. Because how to take gabapentin is important, how to stop taking gabapentin is important and should only be done in consultation with a medical professional.
How And Why Do People Abuse Gabapentin?
The good news is that gabapentin can be useful to people who suffer from an array of illnesses. Even better is that its chemical structure impacts certain brain areas with a minimum of “high” side effects. This means that gabapentin can be a safer alternative to opioids, which are incredibly addictive.
However, that is not to say that gabapentin does not come with addiction dangers. The chemical structure of gabapentin can result in someone experiencing feelings of relaxation and joy as anxiety and pain ease. While these feelings are not quite as intense as they can be with opioids, they are still present, resulting in physical dependence. When it comes to gabapentin, this can be extremely dangerous, as doses must be timed and structured in such a way as to avoid dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
Common Gabapentin Withdrawal Symptoms
- Confusion / Disorientation
- Gastrointestinal symptoms
- Fast heart rate
- High blood pressure
People misuse gabapentin in many ways. Patients can be prescribed the drug by their doctor for an existing medical condition, only to become addicted. People report misuse through crushing and snorting gabapentin rather than taking it orally.
Street Names for Gabapentin
As noted by numerous news reports, there is now a strong black market for gabapentin, which is also called “johnnies” or “gabbies” on the street. People purchase the medication illegally, which is extremely dangerous and contributes to addiction. People misusing this medication and buying it on the street are also at risk of buying counterfeit pills, which may be laced with fentanyl leading to an increased risk of a gabapentin overdose.
Unfortunately, numerous studies have indicated the strong potential for gabapentin abuse and addiction. One 2012 study noted that gabapentin could produce “high” like effects, including euphoria and putting patients into a “zombie-like” state. The same study reviewed the available evidence and found that gabapentin was widely prescribed. It was also found in an increasing number of toxicology reports, alongside many other addictive medications. The same report noted that gabapentin was being found in more and more illegal drugs, such as heroin, thus increasing its danger.
Meanwhile, a 2016 review examined available evidence and found that as many as 1% of the general population could be abusing gabapentin. However, only 40-65% of those people misused prescription gabapentin, meaning that the rest were obtaining the drug illegally. Furthermore, 15-22% of people who already used opioids were also using gabapentin, creating a complicated situation in which individuals misused multiple classes of drugs simultaneously. These disorders are much more challenging to treat and much more dangerous.
The irony is that gabapentin is not an opioid and was developed, in part, to be a less addictive alternative to opioids.
Effects of Gabapentin Addiction and Abuse
Even under normal circumstances, gabapentin is not a drug that is without its dangers or potential problems. It must be used as prescribed by a doctor, and a failure to do so can result in a wide array of side effects, including:
- Loss of coordination
- Difficulty speaking
- Abnormal eye movements
- Nausea & vomiting
Unfortunately, more severe side effects can occur, including irritability, violent behavior, mania, panic attacks, and worse. In some cases, gabapentin use is associated with suicidal thoughts or actions. All of these side effects can intensify with misuse or abuse.
There are additional dangers with gabapentin use if taken in a way not prescribed by a doctor. Gabapentin is known to have adverse drug interactions with other medications and can cause dangerous side effects, such as breathing problems. You should always check with your doctor before using gabapentin for this exact reason.
Some people ask if gabapentin is addictive. Gabapentin does have addictive properties; however, it has a low potential for dependence. As noted above, its side effects can be pleasant and euphoric. As a result of this and how it changes the nerve signals in your brain, people can become addicted to the substance. Gabapentin does not produce quite the same tolerance effects as opioids. Still, people can become more tolerant of some of its “positive” side effects, like anxiety reduction. As a result, they can take more and more of the drug, thus causing further addiction.
In extreme cases, gabapentin overdose is possible, and it can be fatal. There are no treatments like Narcan, where an individual can directly intervene to aid someone overdosing. Immediate medical attention will likely be necessary to save the life of the person who has overdosed. Fortunately, with medical attention and appropriate medical care administration, an overdose need not result in death. Ideally, that individual will then immediately seek treatment for their gabapentin use disorder.
How long does gabapentin stay in your system?
The average half-life of Gabapentin is 5-7 hours, which means that it stays in your system for about 48-hours and doesn’t typically show up on a drug test. A standard 10-panel drug test screening for controlled substances will not detect Gabapentin. These tests screen for amphetamines, cannabis, cocaine, opioids, barbiturates, benzodiazepine, and PCP. Gabapentin is not detectable using a saliva swab test. Blood tests and urinalysis are most commonly used to screen for the drug.
In general, the following applies:
|Blood tests||Up to two days|
|Hair tests||Up to 30 days|
|Urine tests||One to two days in most individuals|
|Saliva tests||Cannot be detected using a mouth swab test|
Factors for detectability include age, body mass, overall health, how much, and how often it’s used, metabolism, hydration, and food eaten.
Treatment for Gabapentin Addiction
Treatment for gabapentin use disorder can vary depending on the severity of the addiction and the individual’s history. After all, no two people are the same, and no two addiction treatment plans will be identical.
There are numerous treatment options for individuals who have a gabapentin addiction. Some or all of these may be used in conjunction with each other.
First and foremost, a person should have a complete medical assessment and begin the process of detox. Gabapentin is not an opioid; medication-assisted treatments that work for opioids will not work. Your withdrawal symptoms will be managed by the medical professionals you’ll interact with and they will do their best to keep you comfortable.
Following detox, there are several options for treatment:
Out-patient treatment allows an individual to live at home or another setting while participating in treatment. They may spend time working with therapists, addiction counselors, or others. These professionals can help someone find the root causes of their addiction, manage their illnesses, learn new coping strategies, and make lifestyle changes that can affect a lasting recovery.
For some, in-patient detox and treatment is the most effective treatment option. An individual will stay at a treatment facility and participate in daily structured groups, activities, and work with a primary therapist to understand their addiction and become grounded in recovery principles.
Support groups & group therapy
Group therapy is a meeting, typically facilitated by a licensed therapist. Participants engage in structured conversations or activities as they relate to substance use disorders. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous are peer-led meetings focused on recovery. Whether it is group therapy or a support group, it is hoped that all participating individuals will learn from each other and use their issues and challenges to grow.
The good news, as you can tell, is that gabapentin addiction can be treated. With proper care and counseling, you or your loved one can recover from gabapentin addiction. Remember, you don’t need to live a life filled with pain and suffering – you deserve so much better. Contact us today for more information on how our experts can help you recover from your gabapentin addiction.