Drug and Alcohol

What Is Gabapentin? Is It Addictive?

What is Gabapentin?

What is Gabapentin? A drug not commonly thought of when talking about drug abuse, it's possible to misuse gabapentin...and experience the risks.

Some forms of addiction are less understood because the symptoms are not that easy to decode upfront. Gabapentin is one such substance that seems to have been less talked about compared to other drugs.

Gabapentin is a prescription medication that has been slowly but consistently rising as an abused substance. Gabapentin is a medication that is considered to be less risky when compared to other drugs such as prescription opioids. However, experts warn that the potential long-term effects of using gabapentin or taking it in large quantities are not well-understood, especially among vulnerable populations such as pregnant women.

This discussion provides more clarity about this substance's misuse and abuse potential and shares information about how a gabapentin addiction takes shape.

By the Numbers:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioned on May 13 that nearly 90% of drug overdose deaths in which gabapentin was detected also involved an opioid: "particularly and increasingly" illicitly-produced fentanyl.

Despite less awareness about the addiction-related risks of using this substance, people in a clinical environment and those in families where this substance is used as a medication are more likely to understand that there is a risk of abuse and addiction. The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved gabapentin. It is also prescribed under the brand name Neurontin, for the treatment of nerve pain caused by shingles and as an additional treatment for seizures. Some doctors prescribe gabapentin off-label to treat nerve pain associated with diabetes.

Using gabapentin can cause harmful side effects such as suicidal thoughts, mood swings, and sudden changes in behavior. Other side effects may include increased blood pressure, sleep disturbances, and changes in appetite apart from some people suffering from chest pain. Although gabapentin has not been classified as a controlled substance in all 50 states, many state governments are taking measures to reclassify it.

This is why despite its many pain-relieving effects, many physicians are not ready to easily give a gabapentin prescription. Today, there are a lot of options available and it is arguable whether prescribing this medication is a necessity.

What Is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin belongs to a class of drugs that are known as gabapentinoids. As a medication, it is used to treat seizure disorders and certain types of chronic pain associated with nerve damage.

Please note that the general notion about gabapentin being an opioid is misplaced. It does not interact with opioid receptors in the brain and it is not an opioid drug. Gabapentin is less addictive than medications such as oxycodone or benzodiazepines which are commonly quoted as examples of how prescription drug opioids are ravaging the nation. Some of the other common uses of gabapentin as a prescription med include using it in the management of symptoms of health conditions like:

  • Epilepsy

  • Restless leg syndrome

  • Hot flashes

  • Neuropathic pain

Although gabapentin can have a calming effect, doctors rarely prescribe it for anxiety—using this substance to control symptoms of panic disorders does not have much acknowledgment despite the drug having a slight calming, almost sedative effect. The medication is primarily used to alleviate pain caused by conditions like shingles or herpes zoster. Its effects are similar to marijuana, causing mild sedation and sometimes a feeling of being high.

Gabapentin is available as white, yellow, or orange capsules and tablets. It can reduce the symptoms of nerve damage that are typically described as a burning or shooting sensation with a scalding-like feeling along the skin. Gabapentin capsules and tablets are usually taken orally, but there have been reports of people misusing the drug by snorting the powder from the capsules.

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Detailing Use of Gabapentin as a Prescription Medicine

Gabapentin is commonly prescribed to treat various conditions, such as chronic nerve pain. It is often used as a part of alcohol and cocaine withdrawal management and for treating restless leg syndrome. Other uses of the substance include treating diabetic neuropathy and fibromyalgia which are associated with extreme discomfort. To some extent, gabapentin has proved useful for controlling seizures.

Depending on the condition being treated, patients may be advised to take multiple, 300 mg to 1200 mg doses per day, especially in the case of neuropathic conditions like epilepsy. However, taking more than the recommended dosage or mixing it with other drugs can lead to gabapentin abuse. Gabapentin is available under various brand names, such as Neurontin and Gralise. However, it is also known by its street names, such as Gabbies or Johnnies.

While the drug can start to alleviate nerve pain within a week, it may take up to a month or longer to experience the full benefits, as the dosage is gradually increased over time to minimize side effects such as dizziness and sleepiness.

Depending on an individual's response to the medication, their dosage may need to be adjusted or another medication be added to better manage the symptoms.

How Does Gabapentin Work?

One of the main theories explaining the pain-relieving effects of gabapentin is that it inhibits calcium channels in the brain, which plays a role in chronic neuropathic pain. GABA, the brain's primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, has the ability to dampen or halt certain signals from being transmitted from the body to the brain.

Some researchers have proposed that individuals with epilepsy may have a deficiency of GABA. The drug works by modifying calcium channels, boosting GABA levels, and reducing symptoms of seizures and nerve pain.

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What Does Gabapentin Feel Like?

Gabapentin can induce feelings of grandeur, relaxation, and calmness, especially in those who do not follow dosage instructions and tend to use more than the prescribed dosage. Thisis a textbook definition of drug abuse. It also develops a possible substance abuse problem. Some individuals have reported that snorting gabapentin can result in a high that is quite similar to that of a stimulant but there is no verified data that can back up this claim.

When taken with other drugs like opioids such as heroin, gabapentin may enhance the euphoric effects and increase the risks associated with these substances. When consumed with alcohol, it can become more potent and work like any other illegal drug bought off the street.

Illegal Gabapentin Is Often Cut with Harmful Substances

Like most instances of prescription medication abuse, it is more likely that the gabapentin available in the black market has been procured via stealing it from a warehouse or a healthcare setting. Unlike crystal meth labs, this substance is not likely to be produced in bulk quantities in makeshift labs. There is a higher chance of it being stolen from hospitals or pharmacies or being bought by individuals who have been prescribed gabapentin and have found a way to get their hands on the substance in a less supervised environment. Since gabapentin is also imported from other countries, there is a chance of it being smuggled.

The purity and quality of these drugs cannot be foreseen unless they are obtained from a legitimate source. Secondly, various harmful substances such as fentanyl might be used to cut and increase the potency or volume of a batch of gabapentin. This means the person using the substance will never know about the potency of the dose. It raises the risk of using too much of a substance, leading to an addiction.

This also underlines something that families should be careful about—if someone at home is using this substance as a medication, be sure to hide it or ensure that you maintain a count of the pills.

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Patterns in Gabapentin Abuse

Gabapentin is a popular prescription medication among physicians in the US due to its ability to address multiple ailments. It was the sixth-most prescribed drug in the country as of November 2021. While it has a low abuse potential on its own, its ability to be used in combination with other drugs can lead to addiction.

Gabapentin abuse is commonly observed in people who already have an addiction to opioids or other street drugs. Intoxication from gabapentin can cause a sense of calmness, euphoria, and a high similar to marijuana. People who show signs of gabapentin addiction may also use the drug to amplify the effects of other drugs.

Signs of Gabapentin Abuse

  • Anxiety

  • Difficulty speaking

  • Drowsiness

  • Coordination problems

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Changes in mood

  • Dizziness

  • Forgetfulness

  • Tremors

  • Depression

What Is the Risk of Addiction to Gabapentin?

Gabapentin is sometimes used as a less addictive alternative to opioids, but addiction and abuse can still occur in many people. This is because gabapentin has a similar chemical structure to gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a brain chemical that affects the body's nervous system.

Gabapentin can produce feelings of relaxation—these feelings are naturally impacted by the levels of GABA in the human body. When a substance has a chemical structure or effects similar to GABA, it tends to upset the manner in which a person emotes or feels. In a good way, gabapentin helps people who suffer from chronic nerve pain and sleep problems. However, it can also cause feelings of excitement and exaggerated happiness. With dosage adjustments, these unwanted effects of the substance can be controlled.

But people who abuse gabapentin might continue to use higher concentrations of the drug to experience high or euphoria, and for some people, this can become habit-forming. The risk of dependence may be higher if you have a history of alcohol or drug misuse and if you are taking gabapentin in combination with certain other medicines as some psychotic drugs can make the effect of gabapentin a lot stronger.

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Using Gabapentin Responsibly

To prevent gabapentin dependence, it is crucial to take the medication only as prescribed by your doctor, avoiding higher or more frequent doses or using it for a longer period than recommended. Inform your doctor if you have a history of drug abuse or notice any signs of a high or craving for the next dose.

If you start taking new pain relief medications as a means to replace gabapentin which is no longer available for you, chances are that you might be already addicted. Keep gabapentin in a secure location away from children, and do not share it with others. It is essential to recognize the need to handle this medication responsibly and be cautious of warning signs.

Misusing gabapentin can have severe consequences for your health, well-being, and safety. Someone trying to control gabapentin cravings at home might easily get addicted to some other substance such as prescription or off-the-counter pain medications.

More About Gabapentin Misuse 

Many individuals in early recovery may abuse Gabapentin because, at high doses of 800 mg or more, they may experience a euphoric high that does not appear on drug tests. Overdosing on gabapentin, either on its own or with other drugs, can lead to potentially fatal consequences. However, there is currently no antidote for handling instances of gabapentin overdoses, unlike opioid overdoses, which have an antidote that can be administered.

If you suspect someone has overdosed on gabapentin, look for symptoms such as extreme drowsiness, muscle weakness, unexplained lethargy, drooping eyelids, and diarrhea, and seek medical attention.

Signs of Gabapentin Addiction/Abuse Explained

Here are the signs of Gabapentin addiction/abuse:

  • Seeking multiple prescriptions to get extra doses of the substance.

  • Lying or exaggerating symptoms to doctors in order to obtain more medication.

  • Changes in personal hygiene and grooming habits.

  • Feeling anxious or uneasy at the thought of the drug being unavailable.

  • Changes in social habits or circles, such as withdrawing from friends and family.

  • Refusal to quit using Gabapentin despite experiencing negative consequences.

Traits of Gabapentin Prescribed Use and Misuse

Severe allergic reactions to gabapentin are possible, whether it is being misused as a drug or used as prescribed. This includes life-threatening reactions such as facial swelling and anaphylaxis. Although rare, gabapentin can also cause serious skin reactions such as Drug Reactions with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms (DRESS). If someone notices changes in the color of their skin in the form of a rash or blisters, there is a possible problem with the body tolerating the drug.

Other symptoms that hint at something similar include developing swollen lymph nodes or the reddening of the skin. More extreme reactions include skin peeling and experiencing swelling in the face along with troubled breathing. People experiencing these symptoms should stop using gabapentin and seek medical attention. Gabapentin use in children can result in certain brain or mental health side effects, including unstable emotions, aggressive behavior, difficulties with concentration, restlessness, hyperactivity, and sudden changes in academic performance. These side effects are usually mild-to-moderate in intensity and should be reported. 

Struggling With Gabapentin Addiction? Talk to The Edge Treatment Center

The Edge Treatment Center has been leading the way in providing comprehensive, evidence-based care for drug abuse and addiction. Our outpatient drug rehab provides expert dual-diagnosis treatment and more to free people from prescription drug abuse.

Don't risk the dangers of gabapentin addiction. Contact The Edge Treatment Center today to learn more.

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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.

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Drug and Alcohol

March 29, 2023