Gabapentin (Neurontin, IG322) is an anticonvulsant medication used to relieve neuropathic pain and treat restless legs syndrome. Gabapentin is also used for several off-label uses, such as neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, and alcohol dependence. Gabapentin’s structure is similar to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the brain and body’s primary inhibitory neurochemical.
Is Gabapentin Abused?
At the time of this writing, gabapentin is not scheduled as a controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). However, several states, such as Kentucky, Michigan, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Virginia, have classified it as a controlled substance.
According to health experts and researchers, individuals have reported that abusing gabapentin can produce euphoric effects similar to that induced by cannabis, in addition to increased sociability and relaxation. Primary motivations for misusing gabapentin include recreational purposes, self-medication, and in some cases, self-harm.
Also, gabapentin is highly sought-after as a means to enhance the effects of opioids. One study revealed that 15-22% of opioid-dependent people sampled had a gabapentin prescription, and 40-65% of those reported using more gabapentin than directed. This statistic sharply contrasts the incidence of gabapentin misuse in the general population reported as being only about 1%.
Gabapentin abuse can be risky for several reasons. When a doctor prescribes a patient gabapentin, they will monitor them for any adverse effects. A person who obtains gabapentin without a prescription will not have this supervision available to them.
Common side effects of gabapentin include the following:
- Involuntary eye movements
- Double vision
Uncommon but possible severe side effects include the following:
- Allergic reaction
- Severe skin reaction
- Muscle tissue breakdown
Also, whether or not they are prescribed gabapentin, a person misusing the drug may be taking excessive amounts of it, increasing the risk of adverse effects, including overdose.
Signs of a possible overdose include:
- Double vision
- Speech slurring
If gabapentin is combined with another CNS depressant, such as opioids, there may be unpredictable, dangerous interactions and compounded effects. If you think you or someone you know may have overdosed on gabapentin or another drug, call poison control at 1-800-222-1222 or contact 911 if an emergency is suspected.
There have been numerous documented cases of gabapentin dependence. Chemical dependence occurs when the body adapts to a drug and will only function normally if it is present. If the drug is abruptly stopped or drastically decreased, the person will withdraw and experience unpleasant symptoms.
Tolerance occurs when a person needs an increasing amount of a drug to achieve effects once achieved at lower doses. There are instances of individuals reporting withdrawal symptoms after stopping gabapentin “cold turkey.”
Gabapentin has a relatively short half-life of approximately 5-7 hours. Withdrawal symptoms may onset 1-2 days after a person abruptly stops chronic gabapentin use. Reported withdrawal symptoms from gabapentin are similar to withdrawal symptoms from abruptly stopping alcohol and benzodiazepines, albeit milder.
Possible signs of gabapentin withdrawal include the following:
- Increased heart rate
- Sensitivity to pain
Due to the possibility of seizures, gabapentin should not be suddenly discontinued, especially if it was being used to treat epilepsy. Instead, it is recommended that the person’s health provider devise a tapering schedule to wean the individual off the medication over weeks to months, especially if they have been taking high doses.
Factors That Affect the Withdrawal Process
Several factors may affect if a person experiences withdrawal from discontinuing gabapentin and to what intensity, including the following:
The average dose or amount of the drug taken: Persons taking relatively high doses of gabapentin may develop a greater dependence on the drug and, as a result, experience a more severe withdrawal process.
The duration in which gabapentin has been taken: People who have used gabapentin long-term may be more vulnerable to drug dependence and experience more severe withdrawal symptoms.
The presence of certain medical conditions: Individuals taking gabapentin to treat seizures may be especially susceptible to seizure activity if they abruptly stop gabapentin.
Genetics/biology: Genes may affect the development and severity, thereby impacting withdrawal.
Getting Treatment for Drug Abuse and Dependence
Using a comprehensive, integrated approach to treatment, Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer customized partial hospitalization and residential programs intended to address substance abuse issues and all aspects of a person’s mental and physical health and wellness. Therapeutic methodologies feature include the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Peer group support
- Individual counseling
- Family counseling
- Health and wellness education
- Substance abuse education
- Relapse prevention techniques
- Art and music therapy
- Aftercare planning
- Alumni events