Gabapentin (brand name Neurontin) is a prescription drug approved to treat neuropathic pain and epilepsy. Although this medication is widely considered safe and effective, in recent years, police and healthcare providers alike have reported an uptick in arrests and hospital visits related to gabapentin’s abuse.
While gabapentin use might sound relatively harmless, problems can occur when used in excess or combined with other depressants, such as opioids or alcohol. This is because it amplifies the effects of all the substances combined.
Moreover, many people have started abusing it to experience a high or increase the effects of other drugs or alcohol. Indeed, it has become a favorite of opioid users seeking to enhance euphoric feelings. Also, because it is not a controlled substance, it is easily obtainable on the black market.
Side effects of gabapentin may include the following:
- Impaired memory
- Impaired coordination
- Difficulty speaking
- Viral infections
- Blurry or double vision
- Erratic eye movements
- Jerky body movements
Is Gabapentin Addictive?
Neurontin can be habit-forming but not typically in the same way as many other substances of abuse. This difference is because, besides GABA, the medication does not appear to affect other neurochemicals in the brain, such as dopamine. This is unlike many other drugs that affect the CNS (central nervous system), including opioids, stimulants, or alcohol.
For this reason, gabapentin is believed to have a low potential for abuse and addiction, so it is not classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) as a controlled substance in the U.S. Despite this fact, gabapentin does have some properties similar to other drugs of abuse.
Gabapentin can induce mild psychoactive effects that are pleasurable and can result in withdrawal symptoms if a user tries to quit abruptly or “cold turkey.” Withdrawal symptoms are a surefire sign of dependence, which occurs over time due to prolonged drug use.
Common gabapentin withdrawal symptoms include the following:
- Teary eyes
- Suicidal thoughts
- Changes in appetite
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle pain or spasms
- Abdominal pain
Of note, when gabapentin is abused using other routes of administration, such as snorting, the onset of effects may be more rapid and intense.
When using gabapentin as directed by a doctor, side effects such as those mentioned above are not necessarily signs of addiction. Symptoms related to gabapentin misuse may be more noticeable and can include addictive behaviors, such as the following:
- Being deceptive about symptoms or exaggerating their severity to doctors in an attempt to get more gabapentin
- Visiting multiple doctors or pharmacies (doctor shopping) attempting to obtain more of the drug
- Switching doctors when the original health provider denies the patient access to medication
- Adverse changes in friends, social behavior
- Poor personal hygiene, unkempt appearance
- Obsession with obtaining and using the drug or other substances in combination with the drug
- Refusal to stop using despite adverse social, financial, or legal issues that occur
- Multiple failed attempts to quit
- Development of tolerance (an ever-increasing amount of the drug is required to achieve the desired effect)
Who Abuses Gabapentin?
In a study that examined data collected by six addiction treatment centers, researchers found that 22% of survey respondents reported using gabapentin and pregabalin (both gabapentinoids) in combination with methadone.
Another study revealed that rates of gabapentin misuse tend to vary depending on the population being analyzed. For example, the incidence of gabapentin misuse among the general population is only about 1%. However, among individuals who abuse opioids, this rate is as high as 22%, and among those with gabapentin prescriptions, as much as 40-65%.
The likelihood of suffering from a lethal overdose on gabapentin by itself is extremely low. However, as a depressant, gabapentin can adversely and unpredictably interfere with other substances such as opioids and alcohol, as well as amplify their effects. These may become severe and result in harm to oneself or others, and for this reason, it is never prudent to use gabapentin with another substance unless approved by a doctor.
Symptoms of an overdose may include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal cramps
- Dizziness/loss of balance
- Profound drowsiness
- Shallow or difficult breathing
- Stopped breathing
- Visual disturbances
- Congested snoring
- Bluing of fingers and toes
Treatment for Gabapentin Abuse
Gabapentin abuse is a potentially serious condition that should be addressed by a health provider or addiction professionals. People who use gabapentin often abuse other substances, including alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, or other drugs.
Treatment for gabapentin abuse should involve specialized care, including comprehensive, evidence-based approaches that feature psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, group support, health and wellness programs, and aftercare planning. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer customized treatment programs in both partial-hospitalization and residential formats.
Our goal is to provide those we treat with the tools and support they need to achieve a full recovery, prevent relapse, and enjoy long-lasting sobriety and wellness!