Drug and Alcohol

Gabapentin: Withdrawal Symptoms & Side Effects

Gabapentin: Withdrawal Symptoms & Side Effects

Gabapentin is not a drug commonly abused, but it's possible to abuse this prescription drug. Learn more about gabapentin in our blog.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

March 31, 2023

Gabapentin, marketed under trade names like Neurontin and Horizant, is a medication frequently prescribed to alleviate nerve damage symptoms. This drug is valuable for individuals who have epilepsy, restless leg syndrome, and neuropathic pain, but it also presents a considerable potential for misuse, like many other prescription drugs.

However, there is little clarity about the side effects of using more than prescribed amounts of this substance and what gabapentin withdrawal looks like. Gabapentin is available as a prescription drug in the United States of America. It is designed to simulate the behavior of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter and is meant for individuals suffering from neuralgia [nerve-related pain]. Its usage is primarily attributed to its anticonvulsant properties, making it a critical medication for those affected by epilepsy.

Gabapentin may be prescribed as a therapeutic aid for nerve pain caused by diabetes, shingles, or accidental injuries. To a lesser extent, it alleviates the severity of migraine headaches. It should never be used without a medical prescription or professional guidance. This discussion will clarify all such queries, detailing different aspects of gabapentin substance use and the seriousness of this type of addiction.

By the Numbers:

After alcohol (used by 65.5% of the population) and tobacco (26.7%), prescription drugs are the fifth most commonly abused substance. After marijuana (19.4% of the population has used) and cocaine, prescription medications are the most commonly utilized illegal substances. - NCDAS

Gabapentin Addiction

Suppose you want to understand more about the misuse probability and risks of Gabapentin addiction. In that case, you should understand a bit more about the history of this substance, how it came into being, and how it has surfaced as a potentially addictive substance. Gabapentin was first developed in 1974 as a muscle relaxant with the potential to treat epilepsy. At that time, benzodiazepines showed some positive effects in epilepsy patients. Scientists attempted to isolate the cause of this. They soon concluded that these drugs' impact on the neurotransmitter GABA made the difference, as people with epilepsy often had low levels of GABA. However, they found GABA itself cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.

Gerhard Satzinger then launched a project to create drug molecules targeting the neurotransmitter. Gerhard synthesized Gabapentin, which incorporated a molecular ring that allowed GABA to pass from the blood into the brain. Gabapentin was marketed in the United States in 1993 and proved somewhat effective in treating various conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder also. It also found some favor as a drug of choice for treating restless leg syndrome, migraine, drug or alcohol dependence, ADHD, and to some extent, premenstrual syndrome.

However, due to its potential for abuse, doctors can be reluctant to prescribe the drug—you might find a physician who is skeptical about this prescription medication and quick to recommend a possible replacement.

Use of Gabapentin as a Prescription Med: Intended Use

If you or a loved one suffers from partial epileptic seizures, you know the toll it can take on daily life. However, there is a long-term treatment option that can help manage these seizures without causing loss of consciousness in the form of Gabapentin—popularly referred to as an anticonvulsant; this drug has been effective at treating focal seizures by blocking certain signals from reaching the brain. Additionally, it can be a game-changer for those experiencing chronic neuropathic pain, providing much-needed relief with minimal side effects. Unlike other epilepsy medications, Gabapentin can be safely taken with other drugs without negative interactions.

However, Gabapentin comes with some potential for being abused. It might seem like the right option for managing a condition related to seizures and for everyday pain management, but deviating from the recommended dosage means a chance of developing gabapentin side effects or even addiction.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Would you like more information about Gabapentin abuse? Reach out today.

Digging Deeper Into How Gabapentin Works as a Medicine

Gabapentin is a psychoactive drug that significantly impacts the brain by mimicking the neurotransmitter GABA in the central nervous system. One of the main uses of Gabapentin is in the treatment of epilepsy, as it is believed that people who suffer from this condition have some degree of GABA deficiency. Gabapentin has proven to be highly effective in managing partial epileptic seizures, also known as focal seizures, which only affect one part of the brain, without causing loss of consciousness.

Overall, Gabapentin is a drug with unique properties that are still not fully understood. Although the full extent of its effects is not yet fully understood, scientists believe that Gabapentin causes an increase in the activity/levels of GABA. This increase in GABA levels is believed to be the reason why Gabapentin is effective in managing chronic neuropathic pain also. One of the leading theories as to why Gabapentin acts like an effective painkiller is that it inhibits calcium channels in the brain. Calcium plays a crucial role in chronic neuropathic pain.

When taken orally, Gabapentin is absorbed into the bloodstream through the small intestine, and a receptor carries it to the brain. The human body does not metabolize the drug, and it is more likely to be excreted as waste through the body's renal system [via the kidneys]. It is important to note that while Gabapentin does not block the uptake of GABA, it has been confirmed that it can decrease the levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—all vital neurotransmitters that control our emotions and behavior and how we feel during the course of a day. 

Side Effects of Gabapentin as a Medicine and Abused Substance

These side effects can appear in both types of users—those who take Gabapentin as per a prescribed regimen and those who are abusing the substance. 

Gabapentin comes with a number of potential side effects, including:

  • Sleepiness

  • Uncontrollable eye movements

  • Memory loss

  • Blurry vision

  • Shaking/tremors

  • Fever/feeling of malaise

  • Anxiety/generalized anxiety symptoms

  • Depression/feeling low. For some, this symptom can become suicidal thoughts

  • Difficulties with speaking

  • Loss of coordination

  • Inability to communicate properly

  • Fainting. This is especially risky if gabapentin is combined with alcohol or other drugs

  • Disorientation

  • Inability to focus at work or school

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you have more questions about Gabapentin abuse? Reach out.

More About Gabapentin Abuse Side Effects

While gabapentin and similar substances are generally safe when used responsibly and under the supervision of a doctor, there are risks associated with their abuse. One of the most serious side effects of gabapentin abuse is respiratory failure, which can occur when the drug is taken in excessive amounts. In some cases, this can lead to a complete shutdown of the lungs.

Another risk associated with gabapentin abuse is pregnancy-related problems. Pregnant women are strongly advised against taking any anti-epileptic medications without first consulting a doctor. Gabapentin should never be used or abused by anyone who is carrying a child, as it can have negative effects on the developing fetus. Hypoventilation is another potential side effect of gabapentin abuse.

As a drug that slows down the central nervous system, gabapentin can be dangerous when it is abused. In some cases, abuse of this drug can cause the respiratory system to slow down to an unsafe level, leading to serious health problems.

Gabapentin, which is also known by street names like Gabbies and Johnnies, has a long history of abuse. In fact, a study conducted in a Florida prison in 2004 found that 80% of users had obtained the drug illicitly. In prison, the drug was crushed and snorted to produce effects similar to that of cocaine. In response, the prison and nearby institutions banned Gabapentin from being prescribed to inmates.

Outside of the prison system, Gabapentin has become increasingly popular for several reasons. While the drug is not an opioid itself, many users take it to enhance the effects of commonly abused opioids like heroin and methadone. One survey found that 22% of respondents had used the drug, with 38% of those using it to enhance the effects of methadone. Although the exact interaction between gabapentin and opioids is not fully understood, the drug is particularly popular among heroin users.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Do you need advice about Gabapentin abuse? Reach out today.

Gabapentin Addiction: What to Know

Drug addiction can occur due to the impact of drugs on an individual's reward centers in the brain, particularly if they have a history of substance dependence. Maintaining a healthy balance of neurotransmitters is crucial for mental health. The use of psychoactive drugs can result in the brain becoming accustomed to chemicals bypassing its reward system. Gabapentin is known to bind to a receptor and mimic the effects of GABA, leading to an imbalance of neurotransmitters. An increase in neurotransmitters such as GABA can bring on feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and well-being.

When Gabapentin is taken in higher doses, it can intensify these sensations, leading to further drug use to maintain the same physical and psychological response. Stopping the medication can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, which may prevent individuals from discontinuing the substance.

Signs of Gabapentin Addiction

  • Spending money on procuring the medication beyond the prescribed schedule

  • Lying about the severity of the condition, i.e. increasing dependency on the gabapentin dose

  • Talking about the drug often, referring to it as a means to feel comfortable

  • Seeing multiple doctors at one time, as a means to get another prescription

  • Switching doctors on a regular basis, as a way to get another prescription

  • Inability to quit using the drug even after its intended course is exhausted

Gabapentin Overdose Dangers

It is rare to overdose on gabapentin alone, but when taken with other drugs, the risk of overdose increases. Symptoms of gabapentin overdose surface as the substance builds up in the body and causes reduced activity in the central nervous system. This causes weakened or halted signals from the brain to the body's nerve centers.

Most people who overdose on Gabapentin alone will experience symptoms such as diarrhea or drowsiness. Some might complain of reduced bodily coordination. However, when gabapentin is mixed with other substances such as opiates or alcohol, the risk of overdose becomes much higher and the resulting symptoms can get life-threatening.

Some common side effects of gabapentin overdose include:

  • Weakness

  • Tiredness

  • Drowsiness

  • Dizziness

  • Diarrhea

Gabapentin and opioids continue to be spoken about in the same context since many people using opioids for a high might be using gabapentin along with it. Unlike many opioid drugs, gabapentin does not have an antidote. Both of these substances depress the central nervous system in different ways. Opioids might do this a lot more, bringing about a sedative effective much sooner and to a greater degree.

Overdosing on gabapentin alone requires a very high dose and is not known to be a cause of death. When taken as prescribed, the side effects of gabapentin are typically mild and tend to decrease over time.

Gabapentin Side Effects When Mixed with Alcohol

It is never recommended to mix prescription drugs and alcohol. In particular, drinking alcohol while taking Gabapentin can be very dangerous. If you consume either substance while the other is still in your system, they can interact, meaning that the effects of both drugs can get intensified with the potential of being very harmful.

This makes the combination of Gabapentin and alcohol popular among drug abusers, but it can lead to some serious consequences, including loss of motor control and blackouts. Mixing alcohol and Gabapentin can even result in hospitalization, so it is crucial to avoid this combination.

More Substance Interactions with Gabapentin

Gabapentin is often abused to alleviate symptoms of heroin withdrawal or to enhance the effects of methadone. Other substances that it can interact with in a potentially harmful way include magnesium oxide, caffeine, and morphine. Some recreational drug users also mix Gabapentin with cannabis, LSD, and amphetamines. All these combinations and interactions can lead to symptoms that can become deadly and might require the person to be rushed to the ER.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

Would you like more information about Gabapentin abuse? Reach out today.

Signs of Gabapentin Withdrawal

It's crucial for individuals using Gabapentin for epilepsy to follow their doctor's instructions and not stop taking the medication without medical advice. Anyone who suspects they may be addicted to the drug or has been taking more than the prescribed dose should seek medical assistance immediately.

Using Gabapentin for an extended period or in ways not prescribed by a doctor is considered drug abuse and requires help to taper off the drug. Suddenly stopping the medication can be hazardous. Individuals who have obtained gabapentin from illegal sources should understand that misusing the drug can cause severe side effects and have a significant impact on the brain's neurotransmitters.

Taking large amounts of gabapentin can cause the brain to become dependent on the drug. This is when stopping the substance can cause strong, physical, and psychological side effects, making it harder to abstain from using gabapentin again.

Some common gabapentin withdrawal symptoms include

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Dizziness

  • Fatigue

  • Sweating

  • Shaking

  • Insomnia

  • Muscle pain

  • Headaches

Gabapentin Abuse: Get Help for Prescription Drug Abuse at The Edge Treatment Center

Gabapentin affects the same area of the brain as alcohol and benzodiazepines, and it has a high potential for addiction. This is especially true for individuals susceptible to its effects or those who have a history of substance abuse. The drug's strength should not be underestimated, and anyone who uses it recreationally to achieve a high should start thinking about getting professional help in the form of drug detox or drug rehab.

The Edge Treatment Center is the nation's leading long-term outpatient drug rehab. We'll help you leave prescription drug abuse behind, helping you develop healthy coping strategies and other ways to build a life free from gabapentin abuse. You'll leave our care and enter a happy life free from substance abuse and addiction.

Want to learn more about gabapentin addiction and the ways it's treatable? Contact The Edge Treatment Center today.

CTA background

We’re Here to Help You Find Your Way

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, there is hope. Our team can guide you on your journey to recovery. Call us today.