Gabapentin Addiction and Treatment

Gabapentin Addiction and Treatment

Table of Contents

What is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant medication typically prescribed to treat symptoms of epilepsy, neuropathic pain, and restless legs syndrome. Although there are many medicinal uses, abuse happens. It is primarily sold under the brand name Neurontin, but there are a variety of other brand names it is sold under as well.

Aside from being prescribed for epilepsy, doctors rarely prescribe Gabapentin for anxiety, although it does have a calming effect. Generally, it’s prescribed to treat pain caused by the herpes virus or shingles virus (known as herpes zoster). It can also be used for hot flashes in menopausal women.

There have been cases of doctors prescribing Gabapentin for anxiety and for reducing the symptoms of bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, this is only done off-label and does increase the risk of depression and suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Gabapentin for Pets

Along with use in humans, Gabapentin is an anticonvulsant prescribed by veterinarians to treat either chronic pain or control seizures. It is used in dogs, cats, and other animals. If your dog or cat has been prescribed this drug, then you should expect them to be sleepy, and uncoordinated. Similar to humans, do not stop this medication abruptly in pets with epilepsy. It can cause withdrawal seizures.

Never give the oral liquid form made for humans to your pet. Not only may it be a lot stronger than what they need to take, but it also contains xylitol. This is a substance that is toxic to dogs. Alternatively, as a human, you should never take the form of Gabapentin made for your pet as they are not the same quality of medication.

Can Gabapentin Be Abused?

It might seem odd that a drug typically prescribed for hot flashes and epilepsy is abused, but it is very commonly abused amongst young people. The reason for abuse is that it affects the GABA neurotransmitter. This is responsible for motor control, vision, and regulating anxiety, which leads to pleasant feelings.

The reason that some people use Gabapentin for anxiety, is because it acts as a mild tranquilizer. In some people, using it for anxiety can be comparable to the high that is produced by cannabis. One reason that someone might self-medicate for anxiety is that it’s not tested for in drug tests.

Is Gabapentin Addictive?

Known on the street as names such as “johnnies” or “gabbies”, most people that abuse Gabapentin do so by mixing it with other substances. The actual likelihood of abuse is considered low, as it has low addictive potential.

Gabapentin is in a class of medications called anticonvulsants. It is currently classified as a Schedule 5 controlled substance, meaning it has a low potential for addiction and abuse.

This means that it’s not usually seen as a narcotic. Despite this, a narcotic is defined as “a drug or other substance affecting mood or behavior and sold for nonmedical purposes, especially an illegal one.” This means that for anyone using Gabapentin without a prescription, they would technically be using a narcotic, but if caught using it illegally, it would not carry the same legal weight as abusing cocaine, for example.

Despite the likelihood of abuse being low, it does create a physical dependence that almost always ends in withdrawal. People who find Gabapentin for anxiety helpful, do increase their risk for abuse and psychological dependence.

Symptoms of Addiction

Although rare, Gabapentin use disorder can occur and is serious. Though the possibility of overdose is almost non-existent, concerns regarding withdrawal and dependence are very real and can create complications.

If you or someone you love is using Gabapentin without a prescription, you may be able to watch for abuse by looking for the following symptoms:

Memory loss

Double vision

Dizziness

Drowsiness

Loss of coordination

Tremors

Jerky movements

Odd eye movements

Unexplainable fever

Difficulty speaking

Depression or anxiety

Sudden change in lifestyle

Primary Signs of Addiction

Lying about symptoms to doctors in an attempt to get the medication prescribed

Going "doctor shopping": Gong to different doctors to attempt to secure multiple prescriptions

Refusing to continue to see a doctor if the original doctor refused to prescribe Gabapentin

Changes in social habits, friend circles, and personal hygiene

Obsessiveness regarding the drug

Refusal to quit despite negative consequences

Failed attempts to quit

Gabapentin Side Effects

The worst effect of Gabapentin abuse is withdrawal. What is interesting about this, is that many people began their abuse as a misguided attempt to self-treat as an aid to withdrawal from alcohol. Other effects of abuse might include:

Abnormal eye movements

Clumsiness

Constipation or diarrhea

Difficulty speaking

Tiredness

Dry mouth

Nausea and vomiting

Swelling of the hands, ankles, and feet

Increased mental health problems such as depression, suicide, or mood swings

Weight gain

Although not common, weight gain is a possible side effect of using Gabapentin, especially when using it for anxiety. If weight gain does occur, it is generally around five pounds after the first six weeks of use.

The reason that weight gain occurs when taking Gabapentin for anxiety is due to an increased appetite, or lack of exercise. It can also be due to fluid retention. Good ways to avoid both weight gain and fluid retention include:

Eating a healthy diet

Eating small portions

Avoiding processed foods

Eating fruits and vegetables in cases of hunger

Sit with feet raised

Avoid standing for long periods of time

Gabapentin Withdrawal

The normal use of Gabapentin should not create withdrawal symptoms. It is good to note that with this drug, any withdrawal symptoms after stopping its use is considered a sign of dependence. This happens due to an increase in your tolerance.

Tolerance is what occurs after prolonged use of a drug. Your tolerance will rise, requiring a larger dose of the medication.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Typically, Gabapentin withdrawal begins between 12 hours, to seven days after the last dose. Most people should expect to feel withdrawal symptoms within 24 to 48 hours. Common symptoms include:​​​1

Sweating

Gastrointestinal troubles

Tremors

Fast heart rate

High blood pressure

Insomnia

Pre-Existing Conditions and Withdrawal

While going through withdrawal from Gabapentin, individuals with pre-existing conditions need to be the most careful. If you have a history of bipolar disorder, psychosis, depression, or epilepsy, then you are at risk for your condition to return.

If you have been taking gabapentin for pain, your pain may return to normal pretreatment levels. If you do have a pre-existing condition, then it is recommended to detox in a medical detox facility such as a hospital or treatment center.

Treatment for Gabapentin Addiction

There are many different forms of treatment for Gabapentin addiction, but any long-term plan will depend on whether you have a pre-existing condition. This can include other substance use disorders or a reason you are taking Gabapentin in the first place.

Unfortunately, there are no protocols for clinical Gabapentin withdrawal. In the case that you do want to go through medical detox, you will need to evaluate it with your doctor.

If you have been abusing Gabapentin and mixing it with alcohol, or other drugs, stopping the use of Gabapentin will not be enough to address the addiction. At this point, you may be physically and psychologically dependent and need a long-term treatment plan designed by an addiction recovery institution.

Tapering Off Gabapentin

Tapering off Gabapentin is extremely important in treatment. This can not only help to prevent severe withdrawal symptoms, but can also save prevent seizures from withdrawal, or even death. Tapering off your dose on your own, at home, is possible, but it is best to do so with the support of a doctor.

Even if Gabapentin was prescribed by a doctor, if you have been taking high doses, then you need to consult your doctor before tapering down.

Treatment for addiction to Gabapentin is typically more difficult than treating addiction to other substances because it is often combined with an addiction to other substances. This can be considered a coexisting condition. Try to remember that regardless of how difficult the treatment might be, recovery is always possible.

Comprehensive addiction treatment programs will be able to help combine a variety of different methods to help you quit using Gabapentin. You will learn why you began abusing it in the first place, and how to recognize the negative behavioral patterns that lead to drug abuse. You will also learn strategies for dealing with triggers and learn how to handle cravings.

Get Help Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with Gabapentin abuse, especially if you have been mixing it with other drugs or alcohol, long-term support leads to the greatest chance for recovery. Whether that means meeting with a psychologist, a psychiatrist, or a counselor privately, or visiting an inpatient detox, help is available. Addiction treatment centers offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, along with groups such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA). A new life free from substances is possible.

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