Formerly classified as a low-risk drug, Gabapentin is quickly gaining national attention as it rises in popularity for recreational use. In 2016, Gabapentin, also known as Neurontin, was the 10th most commonly prescribed drug in the nation, by 2017, it ranked 5th. But, with numerous states issuing warnings for rising rates of abuse, Gabapentin is increasingly being linked to addiction and abuse – potentially putting users in danger. With euphoria like highs, the drug is popular with opiate users, but with far different and potentially more dangerous side-effects and withdrawal.
But, while prevalent, most people still don’t know what Gabapentin is or what it’s for. Unfortunately, with the drug sweeping the nation, and increasingly popular with opiate abusers, it’s crucial that you know what it is, what it does, and what side effects the drug causes. If you or a loved one is using the drug, stopping suddenly can be dangerous, so it is crucial to take the right steps when dealing with Gabapentin abuse and addiction.
What is Gabapentin/Neurontin
Gabapentin or Neurontin is a drug used to treat epilepsy, neuropathic pain, and various neuropathic disorders including epileptic seizures and restless leg syndrome. The drug first appeared in 1993, and was available as a generic in 2004. Today, Gabapentin is commonly prescribed for treating seizures and epilepsy (one of the most common drugs), but also for off-label uses like treating hot flashes, comorbid anxiety, alleviating itching, treatment in addiction recovery, and orthostatic tremor.
Gabapentin achieves all of this by interacting with the GABA receptors in the body, interacting with voltage-gated calcium channels, and modulating the production of enzymes in the brain. This works to create a sedative effect, leading to its increasing promotion as an alternative to opiates for long-term pain. But, like other sedatives, gabapentin is being abused.
An Increasing Pattern of Abuse
In a standard dose of 1,800-2,400 mg, Gabapentin causes mild sedation and relaxes nerve-related disorders. In higher doses, that same sedative effect can cause a euphoria-like experience similar to that caused by opiates, making Gabapentin a leading choice for replacing opiates for abusers. One study showed that about 1/5th of opiate users included in the study also abused gabapentin when given the chance. Other studies show that between 15 and 22% of total opiate abusers also abuse gabapentin, compared to 40-60% of patients with a gabapentin prescription, and less than 1% of the total population. So, abuse is significant, both among users with a prescription and those without.
While not linked to the same habit-forming tendencies as opiates, most gabapentin abusers are already opiate addicts, and use the drug to prolong their substance use disorder – keeping up a high, even when they can’t get a drug of choice. Gabapentin also poses significant risks over long-term use, both because of the fact that it and its side effects have been poorly studied and the fact that side effects can worsen over time.
Gabapentin Side Effects
Gabapentin causes numerous side-effects, namely dizziness, drowsiness, fatigue, edema (swelling), and tremors or shaking. The drug has also been linked to increased suicidal thought and behaviors, which has been reflected on the packaging since 2009. Over long-term use, the drug could also cause an increased risk for tumors – although the risk in clinical trials was small. While health problems are low-risk under normal, prescribed use, many abusers take a significant number of Gabapentin pills to increase the high – therefore increasing their risk over time.
Dosage increase also puts users at risk for potential overdose, which can be fatal. Users experience extreme drowsiness, blurred vision, sedation, and may slip into a coma or die. Overdose is a very strong risk when large quantities of the drug are combined with other drugs or with alcohol.
Can Gabapentin be Used to Treat Addiction?
Gabapentin is sometimes recommended for treating alcohol use disorders. However, the drug has only been FDA approved for the purpose of treating seizure disorders and for neuropathic pain. This means that any use of Gabapentin for alcohol use disorder treatment is off-label – not recommended by the manufacturer. However, several studies have shown that Neurontin has been effective in reducing cravings and side effects during alcohol withdrawal, which means that the drug may eventually be used to help reduce symptoms during alcohol detox. Until further studies prove that it is effective, you should not attempt to use Gabapentin to aid withdrawal unless prescribed by your doctor as mixing the two may cause a fatal overdose.
Gabapentin does not easily cause dependency, does not cause euphoria when taken at the recommended dose, and is relatively safe when taken according to prescription. So, why do so many people use it recreationally or abuse it? Most doctors agree that availability is the key factor. Until 2017, most doctors weren’t aware that Gabapentin could be abused, or that patients were abusing it. Patients could easily fill prescriptions for hundreds of pills and request more on demand, or fill prescriptions at numerous pharmacies, without the same high level of security found with filling prescriptions for opioids. As a safer alternative to opiates for long-term pain for neuropathy, most pharmacists also felt relatively easy about handing it out. Unfortunately, it is easy to abuse.
Most also see Gabapentin as safer, because it isn’t a controlled substance. Being caught with an unprescribed bottle of Gabapentin does not result in legal ramifications, unlike with opiates.
While gabapentin is not typically highly addictive, most users are opiate abusers or psychologically dependent on the drug. Users who regularly and problematically seek out drug highs and sedation often need help, including physical detox and behavioral therapy.
Gabapentin detox is typically crucial, because abruptly stopping the drug can cause seizures. Going cold turkey without medication to reduce the symptoms can be dangerous. A medical detox program can help by giving you support and motivation as you are slowly weaned off the drug to prevent strong side effects. Recovering addicts can then move into traditional treatment, either inpatient or outpatient, to receive therapy and assistance, take part in group therapy and support, and receive aftercare to prevent relapse.
Gabapentin is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in the nation, but doctors are quickly becoming aware of the drug’s danger. On its own, Gabapentin has a low potential for abuse, but is often sought out by addicts hooked on opiates and other types of pain pills. As a result, hospitalizations and ER visits for Gabapentin, especially in combination with opiates, has increased by over 90% since 2008.
If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, thelp is available. A treatment center can help you detox safely and then move you into therapy to treat the underlying issues and effects of your addiction. Please contact Lighthouse Treatment Center today. We are happy to provide a no-cost, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced treatment advisors. Help is available now.