Gabapentin Addiction and Abuse

Gabapentin abuse can occur alongside abuse of other substances like opioids or anti-anxiety medications in order to create intense pleasure, a sense of calm or a general feeling of being ‘high’. Abuse and addiction may be fuelled by the fact gabapentin isn’t currently scheduled as a controlled substance or if escalating doses are consumed.

The potential of the medication for causing euphoria when combined with hydrocodone and other opioids is also partly responsible for its abuse. You can experience dizziness or excessive sleepiness when you take gabapentin with alcohol. In addition, gabapentin can cause a wide range of physical and psychological effects, such as suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

If you or a loved one are using gabapentin, it’s essential to be able to recognise the different abuse and addiction symptoms, such as talking about having no reason to live, talking about a desire to die, withdrawing from activities, acting recklessly, using even more drugs and/or alcohol, phoning other people to say ‘Goodbye’, irritability, loss of interest in activities and depression. If you or someone you love needs help with Gabapentin addiction, contact a treatment specialist immediately.

What is Gabapentin?

Gabapentin belongs to a class of drugs known as anticonvulsants. It is effective in the treatment of seizures because it controls abnormal activity in the brain. The medication has also been used in some capacity to treat marijuana dependence. Gabapentin affects the brain and nervous system; it can also balance electricity activity in the brain.

Gabapantin is chemically related to the brain’s natural neurotransmitters. While it is approved mainly as a means to prevent seizures, it can also change the way the body perceives pain. Many doctors therefore prescribe it for this pain-relieving purpose.

Gabapentin considered a mind-altering drug as a result. However, its functions do not affect the reward system of the brain in the way highly addictive substances do. This is the reason why gabapentin is listed as a drug with low potential for addiction.

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Neurontin and gabapentin: One and the same

Neurontin and gabapentin are the same drug. The substance gabapentin is the generic form of Neurontin. There are other brand names, including Gralise and Horizant. Neurontin or Gabapentin is a highly effective anti-epileptic medication, used for the treatment of seizures.

It can be used on its own or combined with other drugs as a treatment for seizures resulting from epilepsy. It is also used to treat nerve damage-related pain or herpes zoster. The medication is suitable for use by adults and children aged 12 and over.

What is gabapentin used for?

There are several medical uses for gabapentin. It is a non-opioid medication, commonly prescribed as a treatment for epileptic seizures and nerve pain resulting from shingles. It can be found in a generic form or under different brand names like Neurontin and Gralise. It can also be used as medication in the detoxification process of alcohol and cocaine. Some doctors equally prescribe it for bipolar disorder and insomnia.

In addition to its use as a treatment for several types of neuropathic pain, gabapentin is also prescribed for off-label purposes such as anxiety and the symptoms of RLS (Restless Legs Syndrome). Gabapentin can be taken as an oral solution or in capsule or tablet form.

Gabapentin abuse is common, because it is a commonly prescribed medication and also due to its status as a psychoactive drug. It is important to be aware of the potential risks and dangers associated with gabapentin if prescribed.

Risks of gabapentin abuse

Generally, gabapentin is a safe drug when taken according to your doctor’s advice, but abusing the medication poses a number of risks. When abusing gabapentin – either to intensify the associated ‘high’ or cope with withdrawal symptoms – the severity of side effects can be increased. Some side effects you can expect to encounter include diarrhoea, headaches, drowsiness, anxiety, heartburn, blurred vision, weight gain, ear pain, fever and dry mouth.

Some other more serious risks include dark urine, rashes and suicidal ideation. If you experience any of these, contact your doctor immediately. The more you abuse Gabapentin, the higher your risk of developing side effects and experiencing more intense side effects during withdrawal. Gabapentin is not the most addictive drug, but you can still become dependent on it.

If you’ve been using this drug and are worried about developing problems related to gabapentin abuse and addiction, speak to your doctor. If you’re finding it difficult to quit, you can seek help from a doctor or addiction specialist. You can defeat gabapentin abuse with the right support and appropriate treatment.

The legality of gabapentin

Prescription medications are regarded as controlled substances by law. The only legal method via which to access such drugs is to be in possession of an authentic doctor’s prescription. In the US, federal and state laws exist that make it illegal to use or share prescription medications, such as gabapentin. If you take a pill that wasn’t prescribed for you or give your prescription drug to another person, it is against the law and also highly dangerous.

Gabapentin is a prescription-only drug in the UK. You’ll need to consult a doctor, who can determine if your condition requires this substance before prescribing it. The medication shares similar qualities with drugs popularly associated with abuse and addiction. It produces certain psychoactive effects and can cause withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit.

Even with these characteristics, it is not scheduled as a controlled substance, suggesting it has little or no potential for abuse and addiction. In 2016, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) recommended that gabapentin should become a controlled substance and be declared a Class C substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1979.

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How addiction develops: Who is most at risk of abuse?

It’s easy to think that just because gabapentin is not a controlled substance, you cannot become addicted to it. However, all drugs have the potential to lead to addiction, and you only increase these odds by abusing them. Abusing any drug means taking it more often than prescribed, consuming larger doses than prescribed or continuing to take it even after the prescribed period has ended.

While gabapentin is not addictive in the traditional sense, it’s still possible to become psychologically addicted to the drug. This means relying on gabapentin to induce certain effects or feeling like you can’t find any peace or calm without it in your system.

The psychological dependence resulting from abuse can make you become accustomed to the feelings it induces. You can also begin to experience physical and mental withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop using gabapentin. These can include headaches, vomiting, anxiety, confusion and flu-like symptoms.

If you’ve become dependent on opioids, cocaine or alcohol, gabapentin could be particularly desirable because of its ability to ease out withdrawal symptoms in between doses. Also, the medication can help to boost relaxation and reduce anxiety during withdrawal from these ‘harder’ substances. There’s also a high risk of gabapentin abuse if you’re looking for a relaxing ‘high’, especially when you’re already abusing other drugs.

Gabapentin abuse

Abuse of gabapentin is a possibility when taking this medication. Mind-altering substances such as gabapentin are susceptible to abuse, even if they are not classified as being addictive. There are dangerous and unnecessary side effects that can occur when you use more of the drug than prescribed or for a longer period than recommended.

It’s essential to be able to recognise gabapentin abuse, especially as it is not widely recognised as a substance of abuse. When you start to use intoxicant medications for recreational purposes, you can begin to act differently, become more secretive and spend more time with drug-abusing friends. Your performance at work or school will also be affected, as you can easily lose interest in the other aspects of your life not directly related to drug use.

Your eating and sleeping habits will also become altered, in addition to your self-care and personal hygiene routine. If you’ve been prescribed gabapentin and have a history of substance abuse, you’ll need to be carefully supervised, because of the possibility that you’ll misuse the drug. Since it can cause euphoric effects, you could take it in higher doses to achieve this or to satisfy cravings.

Gabapentin abuse and teens

Gabapentin is relatively cheap, especially when purchased on the street. This is because it can be easily diverted from medicine cabinets by individuals who are trying to manage withdrawal, experience a quick ‘high’ or potentiate other illicit substances. It is also easily accessed by teenagers and young adults looking to experiment with drugs.

The ease of access to gabapentin is due to its wide range of uses, which means that many people have legitimate prescriptions. Therefore, it is a cheap medication that can be acquired with very little effort and teens can afford to purchase the drug. It only takes 300 milligrams for inexperienced users to get ‘high’, whereas an adult with low gabapentin tolerance can become intoxicated with 600 milligrams.

Unfortunately, because gabapentin is considered safe to use by many people, pharmacists and unscrupulous drug dealers will not hesitate to sell it to teens. However, they might consider other factors before selling more ‘addictive’ prescription medications.

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How gabapentin is abused

Gabapentin is abused in several ways; it can be taken in higher doses than prescribed by a doctor, or even taken without any prescription at all. The tablets can be crushed and snorted or injected to induce the euphoric effects faster. They can also be chewed and then swallowed. Abusing gabapentin by taking large doses – or using it other than prescribed – can potentially cause an overdose.

When abuse leads to overdose, you could experience different symptoms, ranging from diarrhoea to blurry and double vision, slurred speech, dizziness and respiratory distress. If you experience any of these, it is crucial to get immediate medical attention. Professional help can divert the potentially dangerous complications that could occur.

In addition, if you’re abusing gabapentin, you might do anything just to source more of the drug. You could engage in ‘doctor shopping’ or visiting numerous doctors in the hope of sourcing multiple prescriptions for gabapentin. You may even consider stealing or faking prescriptions for more drugs.

Signs and symptoms of gabapentin abuse

There are several signs and symptoms that manifest when gabapentin is being abused. They include:

  • Completing a prescription of the drug too fast
  • Evidence of empty pill bottles or drug apparatus
  • Taking higher doses each time or more often than prescribed
  • Seeking a prescription for gabapentin after it is no longer medically necessary
  • Exaggerating medical symptoms to try and get a prescription for the drug
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • ‘Doctor shopping’ or looking to source multiple prescriptions from several doctors
  • Chewing, crushing, or employing other methods to manipulate gabapentin pills before using
  • Shift in social circle (or social withdrawal and isolation)
  • Possible financial and legal difficulties
  • A decline in physical appearance
  • Increased aggression, hostility or episodes of violence
  • Increased risk-taking behaviours and possible suicidal ideations
  • Change in priorities and loss of interest in things that were important previously

Physical, emotional and social effects of gabapentin abuse

Gabapentin abuse is not as dangerous as abusing opioids or narcotics, but can still result in physical, emotional and social effects for a prolonged period of time. Suicidal ideation is common with gabapentin abuse; according to statistics, such thoughts occur in one in 500 people using it. Abusing the drug can also lead to an overdose, with symptoms such as slurred speech, blurry vision, sedation and drowsiness.

In addition, isolation and social withdrawal are common emotional and social effects of gabapentin abuse. They occur because the drug assumes top priority, taking over from activities you may have enjoyed previously. When you’re consumed by gabapentin abuse, your thoughts are likely to be completely overshadowed by a compulsive need to consume the drug.

Additional effects of gabapentin abuse may include swelling of the hands and feet (peripheral oedema), confusion or memory loss, sudden mood swings, sores on the mouth or skin, poor muscle movement, stomach pain, respiratory suppression and kidney issues.

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Short-term effects of gabapentin abuse

Gabapentin abuse has increased at a rapid pace, and it is important to know about the short-term effects that can occur as a result. You may also notice that some pills are going missing and suspect a loved one might be abusing the drug.

Some of the short-term effects to look out for include tremors, drowsiness, dizziness, blurry vision, enhanced sociability, unusual eye movements, euphoria (described as ‘marijuana high’), sedation and ‘zombie-like’ effects.

The risk of experiencing short-term effects of gabapentin abuse increases as your intake of the drug grows. Dosage increase can be expected with gabapentin abuse, because your body will rapidly become tolerant. This means you’ll need more frequent or larger doses than usual to achieve the ‘high’ you initially acquired when using gabapentin.

When you consume gabapentin – especially for conditions unrelated to neuropathy – you might experience muscle pain and aches in your nerves or joints. You could also find it challenging to concentrate. These symptoms take some time to dissipate, even if you only took the drug at the dose prescribed. It can be difficult to ascertain when they will wear off.

Long-term effects of gabapentin abuse

According to a study from the American Journal of Medicine, gabapentin toxicity can occur if you have a pre-existing kidney disease, which can result in poisoning and even death. Gabapentin is processed through the kidneys; subsequently, damaged kidneys will be unable to eliminate it effectively from the body. Other potential long-term effects of gabapentin abuse include memory loss, weakened muscles and respiratory failure.

If you’ve been taking the drug for an extended period of time, it can be risky to suddenly attempt to stop. The brain could be unable to handle an abrupt absence of gabapentin and attempting to adjust might cause severe symptoms, like seizures. This dangerous effect can occur even if you’ve never suffered seizures before (or are taking the drug as treatment for something other than seizures). Quitting gabapentin should therefore be gradual and under medical supervision.

There are certain medications being tested to determine whether the long-term effects of abusing gabapentin are reversible, although specific treatments are yet to emerge. It is crucial to seek medical help for safe detoxification from the drug – followed by a professional rehabilitation programme – to help you change your risky behaviour in relation to prescription medications.

Statistics and facts about gabapentin abuse

  • The FDA allowed the manufacture of gabapentin, the generic form of Neurontin – in 2004. This drug is now one of the most prescribed medications in the US.
  • Studies show that gabapentin may be effective as a treatment for cocaine withdrawal. The drug is still being studied as a treatment option for recovering cocaine users.
  • Gabapentin statistics show that it is also an effective drug in the treatment of neuropathic pain or fibromyalgia.
  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 7% of Americans aged 12 and above have abused a psychotherapeutic drug.
  • In the United States, prescription and over-the-counter substances are the most commonly prescribed drugs, after marijuana.
  • Gabapentin is commonly abused by combining it with alcohol and/or other drugs. This causes the side effects to become intensified, multiplied and fairly unpredictable.
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Gabapentin abuse in the UK

Gabapentin and Pregabalin are anticonvulsant medications, used in treating conditions such as neuropathic pain, epilepsy, postherpetic neuralgia, fibromyalgia and diabetic peripheral neuropathy. According to official figures, the number of deaths linked to Gabapentin in England and Wales rose from eight in 2012 to 59 in 2016. The number linked to Pregabalin rose from four to 111 within the same period.

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs is calling for both substances to be reclassified, because of the increase in mortality figures. Concerns have also been raised about the drugs being prescribed too easily to patients. According to the ACMD, in only five years there has been a 150% increase in Gabapentin prescriptions and a 350% rise for Pregabalin. With reclassification, it would become more difficult to receive the drugs on a repeat prescription.


FAQs

How does gabapentin affect the brain and body?

Gabapentin’s effects will depend on your specific body and brain chemical makeup. However, when you abuse the drug, it can cause a range of effects, including depression, dizziness, loss of voluntary muscle control, fatigue and drowsiness.

How dangerous is gabapentin abuse?

Gabapentin may be abused for its enjoyable short-term effects, but can lead to overdose and other harmful side effects. Abusing the drug in high doses could result in seizures, which can be potentially deadly, especially if you’ve never experienced them before.

Can gabapentin be used legally?

Gabapentin is primarily prescribed as a treatment for seizures, neuropathic pain and other off-label uses, including insomnia, anxiety disorders and bipolar disorder. The drug can be used legally if prescribed by a physician. However, buying it from a friend or an illicit dealer makes it illegal to use.

Can I mix gabapentin with other substances?

Mixing gabapentin with other substances will intensify the effects. For instance, if gabapentin makes you dizzy or sleepy, combining it with morphine or other strong opioid painkillers will enhance the effects. It’s therefore crucial to tell your doctor or pharmacist about any drugs you’re currently using before you begin to take gabapentin.

What are the street names for gabapentin?

Gabapentin is also known by other slang or street names, such as morontin, gabbies and Johnnys. The name used to refer to the drug may vary from place to place, as illicit drug dealers will try to hide the fact that they are trading prescription pills. However, Gabapentin can easily be found by its actual name, so a street name isn’t really necessary.

Who is most at risk of abuse?

The people most at risk of gabapentin abuse are those who abuse opioids. According to studies, gabapentin is used recreationally by more than one out of five opioid abusers. Also, more than half of gabapentin abusers abuse opioids as well.

Why should you be concerned about gabapentin abuse?

There are a number of reasons why gabapentin use should be an issue of concern. Even though the drug doesn’t have as high a risk of overdose as opioids, it’s still considered dangerous, especially if taken for an extended period. In addition, it can circumvent the blocking effects of other drugs used in treating addiction. This means that you can still ‘get high’ if you ingest gabapentin whilst undergoing treatment.

Who abuses gabapentin?

Individuals in drug addiction recovery can easily abuse gabapentin to achieve feelings of euphoria. You might also abuse the drug if attempting to enhance its desirable effects or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Is gabapentin Addictive?

Gabapentin has a low addictive potential, but can bring about withdrawal symptoms, which is a crucial sign of addiction. In addition, there’s a high possibility that addiction to other intoxicants is present alongside gabapentin abuse.

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